Development deficiency in the midst of abundance : indigenous knowledge and development in the communities of Mpembeni and Mdletsheni abutting Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park.
Ngubane, Thandi Precious Lindi.
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The state of the environment in South Africa is deteriorating and the province of KwaZulu-Natal is no exception to the situation. KwaZulu Natal is experiencing soil erosion, has inadequate policies for environmental protection, and current environmental measures lack mass support (Ndimande, 2001 :6). This is so because the beliefs of the past ascribed overpopulation as the main factor for the degradation of the environment and many conservation projects disregarded human needs, rights and dignity. For instance, the establishment of many game reserves meant forced removal and social dislocation of indigenous people (Ngobese and Cock, 1995:17-21). Forced removal and social dislocation in any situation can instigate conflict. Conservation agencies in South Africa, such as Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife (EKZNW) in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), can be very effective in their conservation efforts if they create a platform that allows indigenous knowledgeable communities to participate in the management of protected areas. This participation could be in the form of allowing and encouraging communities abutting protected areas to contribute relevant Indigenous Knowledge (lK) for use to authorities of EKZNW. This effectiveness could be enhanced if the result of community participation will be sustainability in the community. According to Shragge (1993), a community has a heart, and its lifeblood is its authentic culture, its shared experiences of the past and its local ways of doing things (1993:39). Utterances such as the one below by Masuku (1999) do not stand conservation agencies in good stead. ' ...the lack of good understanding of people's way of life by my organizations (EKZNW) in areas that are today recognized as protected areas is occasionally pointed as one of the sources of conflict around conservation issues... (1999: 1), The aim of this study was to explore ways in which EKZNW could position itself to be an integral part of saving the decline of indigenous knowledge, and to nurture and stimulates its production as a starting point towards improving the lives of rural poor communities adjacent to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park, with specific reference to communities of Mpembeni and Mdletsheni Traditional Authorities. For the purpose of this research, communities' animal and plant indigenous knowledge was chosen as the yardstick for assessment of contribution that communities can make to biological diversity conservation and development. The choice was informed by an understanding that the diversity of plants and animals provide us with a resilient natural system, which in turn provides a crucial life support system such as purification of air and water. On the other hand, poverty drives the rural poor, who also benefit from this life support system, into poaching and unsustainable resource harvesting. These illegalities, although the only option, play a negative role in the viability and sustainability of biological diversity conservation. Research findings revealed that plant and animal indigenous knowledge is present in the communities, and they face a great challenge that there is no systematic documentation of this knowledge, and its oral transmission is inconsistent. It was through the urgent need dictated by the status quo that this research project was conceived. An attempt was made to tap into this knowledge by conducting a study in the two communities and bring it to the forefront of biological diversity conservation, and into development projects funded through community levy fund by EKZNW, in order to uplift the communities' standard of living.