It is not wise to bite the land that feeds you

2017-02-19 06:10
Natural resources community members demonstrate for the protection of their land. (Jeff Brown)

Natural resources community members demonstrate for the protection of their land. (Jeff Brown)

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Livhuwani Matsila

Who said that the economy and its related challenges were only for economists and those in the financial sector or government to worry about? Should we continue to be spectators and care less about the dire economic situation in which our beloved country is trapped?

No, we cannot pretend to be oblivious to the financial calamity that is forming in front of us, only to wake up when it is already too late, with no way to move beyond what would by then be an insurmountable mountain.

The dire economic situation in our country enjoins each one of us, as leaders and citizens in our own right, to make some meaningful contribution towards socioeconomic recovery and stability as we strive to create a better life for all.

So far, such efforts have been the exclusive domain and privilege of politicians, the media, academics and intellectuals. This should not be the case. There is definitely a role for each and every one of us to play, a niche in which we can contribute significantly.

My focus here, however, would be on what it is that traditional leaders can do with what is in their immediate reach and endowment.

It is disheartening that traditional leaders and community activists are reduced to spectators of little relevance in finding solutions.

In reality, traditional leaders are the custodians of the land and natural resources in rural areas where the impacts of the current economic crisis cripple poor families as jobs and economic opportunities are becoming scarcer.

There is ample scientific evidence that natural resources such as land, water, soil and biomass are critical commodities that require proper management if we are to achieve economic growth and recover from the current economic meltdown.

While government has been implementing programmes at the cutting-edge of environmental management, there are growing concerns regarding the prevalent abuse of land and natural resources across the entire South African landscape.

Law enforcement efforts by the department of environmental affairs require dedicated support by traditional leaders in order to sustain their momentum and improve on the gains made thus far. However, it is not surprising that traditional leaders are not considered to be important role players in mainstream economic activities, as their powers in natural resource management have been eroded over a period of time.

Historical reasons include colonial destabilisation and disruption of indigenous traditions, which promoted principles of sustainable utilisation of natural resources and general respect for land. Recent reasons include the democratic government’s underestimation of the role of traditional leaders in socioeconomic development.

As traditional leaders, we might have brought this enigma on ourselves as some succumbed to socioeconomic pressures and participated in the abuse of natural resources. Traditional leaders who sell land for next to nothing are abusing land, let alone that selling communal land is not in the best interest of the communities who should derive tangible benefits from it.

Our rural areas, which were once the epitome of pristine, beautiful and tranquil landscapes, are now characterised by high levels of poverty, noise, illegal dumping of waste, water pollution, overgrazing, bush encroachment and impending environmental disasters.

Our government and the private sector are particularly called upon to include traditional leaders in all initiatives for economic recovery and growth. Current efforts by the department of environmental affairs to include traditional leaders in the fight against the abuse of natural resources are a step in the right direction to ensure the restoration of the authority of traditional leaders in modern society.

We must all join hands to preserve our natural resources to avoid environmental disasters that could collapse our economy, livelihoods and social fabric.

Chief Matsila is the founder of the Matsila Community Development Trust.

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