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Environment and History

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Environment and History

Indigenous Trees and Forests: Contradictions, Conflict and Conservation in Natal and Zululand (1900-1960)

Harald Witt

Environment and History 22 (2016): 319-349. doi: 10.3197/096734016X14661540219230

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At the turn of the nineteenth century, it was estimated that nine-tenths of the identified forests in Natal had been permanently alienated from the Crown through their incorporation into private lands and Native Trust Lands. The entrenchment of the political power of white land-owners in the twentieth century ensured that official attempts at restraining private land-owners from destroying indigenous forests on their lands were doomed to fail. Trust forests, as quasi state forests, were however, more accessible to Forestry officials, who remained convinced that the management and ultimately preservation of these forests could best be controlled and managed by themselves. This article examines the manner in which the conservation and administrative control of the various forests on Trust lands became the subject of dispute between various organs of the state in the first half of the twentieth century. This contestation was characterised, on one level, by a general shift from a conservationist and utilitarian approach in regard to the management of indigenous forests to one that was far more preservationist in definition while, at the same time, illustrating fierce administrative tensions between a relatively compassionate Department of Native Affairs and a Department of Forestry that subscribed to a more racialised agenda.

KEYWORDS: Conservation, forestry, Natal, Zululand, Native Trust Lands, South Africa


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