Land restitution and conservation : social capital in the Mkambati community.
This study highlights the role social capital plays in promoting relationships within and between organizations so that they are able to act with common cause. For years relationships between parks and local communities have hinged upon access to, and use of natural resources that are more abundant within parks. Contestation over these resources has overtime led to covert, and in most cases open conflict between these two stakeholders in conservation. Intrinsic in relationship building is social capital. Using the case of the community of Mkambati this study presents both historical and, as developed in recent organizational studies, mental models as critical variables through which social capital evolves and sustains itself within organizations. The argument advanced in this study is that social capital plays an important factor in helping previously displaced communities to regain their land. Relationships play a pivotal role in bonding people, communities, and organizations. Secondly, this study provides a historical perspective of the role played by the community of Mkambati in challenging dispossession of their land. Since the expropriation of their land, the community of Mkambati has relied on bonding social capital in their resolve to regain this land. As this study demonstrates, trust, reciprocity, solidarity and empowerment are some of the properties of social capital that have bonded the community of Mkambati in the struggle for the restitution of their land. The success of the community of Mkambati in regaining their land is also attributed to this community’s resilience to withstand challenges it faced through its protracted battle to have its land back. This resilience, as this study demonstrates emanates from this community’s reliance on social capital. Also, and equally important, the robustness of the community of Mkambati to resist change is founded on relational capital drawn from the shared mental model of injustice – the wish to have their land back. This relational capital was continuously reinforced by the actions this community resorted to achieve this goal. Land restitution and the emergence of a democratic government made redundant the strongly shared mental model that bound people together for many years. With the return of the land to the people of Mkambati, many new opportunities arose around access to, and use of resources. These opportunities are framed as mental models so that whereas in the past the people held a shared mental model, now they differ among themselves according to their preference for access to, and use of resources. It is suggested that, if not managed, opportunistic behaviour could lead to the privatization of resources and an erosion of the present common property regime and a weakening of a community social capital. On this understanding it is prudent for the community of Mkambati to instil a new shared mental model that will enable this community to use relational connectedness and relational capital to enhance collaborative behaviour necessary for the community’s realization of opportunities associated with the return of common property through land restitution. This study highlights the importance of understanding the role of mental models in sustaining social capital and directing collective action. This study suggests that particularly in the context of common property, explicit attention should be given to understanding the diversity of mental models held by stakeholders, and to a process that constructs and sustains a strategic shared mental model. This is because mental models are perceived to provide a foundation for social learning which is necessary to sustain social capital that promotes collective action within the community.