(2007) JLP 55: 37-71






Werner Zips and Manuela Zips-Mairitsch




Celebrated as an international model for conservation, the establishment of the Peace Park Foundation in South Africa in 1997 promised a new vision for the protection of wildlife, biodiversity, and a political healing of those scars of colonial history, the national borders dissecting Africa according to European design. With its core idea and overall aim to promote and implement the concept of Transfrontier Conservation Areas within the Southern African Development Community region the Peace Parks model grabbed the imagination of the political elites, the development agencies, the tourism industry, the conservationists, and the wildlife managers as no other initiative had done before. Opened in 2000 the first officially declared Kglagadi Transfrontier Park brought down the fence between the South African and the Botswana protection area of the Eastern Kalahari. The joint conservation management and planning agreements saw winners on all sides. But did these negotiated arrangements include the people originally inhabiting the area? Not adequately, if their voices are to be believed. For the late legendary master tracker and long serving South African Park Ranger Vetpiet Kleinmann the Peace Park establishment did not mean peace for himself and the community of Khomani-San whose ancestors are buried inside the park. Their graves cannot be visited except on payment of the regular entrance fee. Above all the ethical and legal issues involved, for Vetpiet Kleinmann there has also been a tragic neglect of the conservationist capacities and environmental knowledge of the First People in and of the Kalahari.


These problems show that in the establishment of this and other parks little attention has been given to the nature and extent of the rights of indigenous groups in the lands where they had their homes.  Participation, consultation, empowerment and accountability have been absent in relation to these peoples, and as a result their notions of land and social relationships in regard to land have been disregarded. However, the communicative competence developed by representatives of indigenous peoples has resulted in new discourses on indigenous rights, and these are reflected in recent developments in human rights and international law.  Proposals are now emerging for new understandings of the nature of indigeneity and new forms of participatory governance of natural resources.