Game fences in the Karoo: reconfiguring spatial and social relations

F. Brandt, M.J. Spierenburg

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


In this article, we discuss how farm conversions to wildlife habitats result in the reconfiguration of spatial and social relations on white-owned commercial farms in the Karoo region of the Eastern Cape in South Africa. Farmers and landowners justify such conversions stressing economic and ecological rationales. We illustrate how conversions are (also) a reaction to post-apartheid land reform and labour legislation policies, which white farmers and landowners perceive as a serious threat. They seek to legitimate their position in society and reassert their place on the land by claiming a new role as nature conservationists. We argue that game farms should be interpreted as economically and politically contested spaces for three reasons: (1) whereas landowners present the farm workers' displacement from game farms as the unintended by-product of a changing rural economy, the creation of pristine wilderness seems designed to empty the land of farm dwellers who may lay claim to the land; (2) game farms further disconnect the historically developed links between farm dwellers and farms, denying them a place of residence and a base for multiple livelihood strategies; (3) this way the conversion process deepens farm dwellers' experiences of dispossession and challenges their sense of belonging. Game fences effectively define farm workers and dwellers as people out of place. These dynamics contrast government reform policies aimed at addressing historical injustices and protecting farm dwellers' tenure security. © 2014 The Institute of Social and Economic Research.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)220-237
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Contemporary African Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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