Poor rural women co-managing protected areas – a viable option?

The case of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Researcher: Lisbeth Larsson Lidén
Project established in 2006 and funded by Sida/Sarec
The aim of the research project is to analyse processes of land claims, restitution and settlement in the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, GSLWP, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. The park was declared a World Heritage Site in December 1999 and as such falls under the legislative tools of the World Heritage Convention Act and the Constitution of South Africa. The intention by government and park authorities is to combine conservation and development goals while introducing an integrated management model in accordance with the World Heritage Convention Act of South Africa. According to the Act social and development needs of local residents and citizens should be considered at the same time as the country´s World Heritage Sites are protected, conserved and presented. The park is in this respect subject to policy prescriptions at the international, national and local levels. The success or failure to introduce new management practices will depend on local people´s participation in decision-making and their willingness or reluctance to adhere to the regulations. The study focuses on poor rural women as natural resource users trying to assess women´s impact on the environment and their access to resources as a means to sustain livelihood options and well-being. What are the prerequisites for poor local people, and in particular women, to participate and secure their rights to resources within the Park? Will an integrated management model allow them to become co-managers? A comparative two case study will be conducted on land claims, settlement and outcomes. Participatory research methods will be used for the involvement of women in the research process with an aim to enable them to influence future decisions and management of the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park.


Research will be undertaken with three main objectives:

1. to investigate processes of land claims, restitution and settlement in the Greater St Lucia Wetland Park, GSLWP. Issues to be raised are if restitution serves the broader goals of alleviating poverty and developing rural areas, and if so, what are the prerequisites for local people to participate and secure their land rights?

2. to find out if restored land rights meet criteria of sustainability addressing environmental and rural livelihood goals.

3. to draw out the gender dynamics in these settlements and to assess to what extent women are included in the settlement negotiations and the benefits accruing from them, as well as in co-management structures.

Theoretical framework
There is empirical evidence of conflicts evolving around present resource use and management within the park and adjacent areas. Researchers are concerned about conservation authorities enforcing regulations, which have not been negotiated and agreed with local communities. UN conventions on democracy and human rights, economic, social and cultural rights, and good governance are applicable to the management of the park. Evidently democratic decision making structures are still missing on the ground, a main constraint towards sustainable development. One basic assumption for the research is that the commons and protected areas play a key role for the improvement of poor rural peoples´ livelihoods. It raises issues on and a need to further analyse local institutions, power relations and networks. Are there democratically elected representatives and decentralised decision-making on the ground which local people find trustworthy and reliable? The historical and cultural settings in which those institutions operate are equally important. A society featuring patriarchal and hierarchical power relations and networks may have an impact on how management decisions are made, e.g. the willingness to include and give poor rural women a voice. Can a distinction be made between democratically elected leaders and traditional leaders as agents for poor rural peoples´ interests, the interests of poor rural women e t c? Based on findings from previous research the project assumes that local peoples´ civic associations in favourable cases may contribute to the empowerment of poor people and their influence on how to manage and use the natural resources within the park. Furthermore, it will explore to what extent such associations exist, their membership structures, constitution and agenda. It is believed that civic organisations may foster democratic ideas and practices essential for the formation of social capital, a key to poor peoples´ knowledge of how to empower themselves and how to behave as collective agents. The prevalence of civic organisations at the local level in turn depends on the overall institutional arrangements at that level. Are citizens allowed to practice democratic rights and are they aware of their rights? The ability to practice those rights is an important prerequisite for development and for combating poverty.

Land claims and post-settlement processes, restitution and co-management of protected areas will be analysed within the above theoretical framework. The role of local level associations, for example the role of environmentalists, traditional and state decision making institutions, park authorities and private tourist interests etc will be assessed from the perspective of the community members and their interests. Related questions pertain to the practices of democratic rights and the processes for the appointment of community members´ representation and participation in decisions and management of the park. Besides questionnaires with a mixture of structured and open-ended questions , Participatory Rapid Appraisal (PRA) methods will be used, including transects walks, wealth ranking and well-being ranking, social maps, conflict matrices on natural resource use, direct observation, focused group discussions, key informants etc. Men and women will be split into separate groups in anticipation that a gender mix with both men and women in the same groups will inhibit women from speaking freely.


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