The end of apartheid and the dawn of a democratic era were meant to bring freedom and prosperity for those who had been living in South Africa’s former homelands. The so-called Independent States created by the apartheid government had for decades been sites of oppression and exploitation. However, the prospects of 1994 remain elusive for the people of the Imizizi Administrative Area, in the fertile Pondoland North region of the Eastern Cape province.

Ironically, the post-apartheid dispensation has been characterised by the further loss of land, betrayal from elected and traditional leadership and rampant exploitation from the private sector. In many ways, the experiences of the people of Imizizi highlight the fundamental failures of the past 26 years of democratic South Africa.

The Imizizi Administrative Area once consisted of 880 households spread out over 10,000 hectares of land in Pondoland. Its residents had over centuries, developed various local economies and forms of subsistence in a steady, if tenuous, relationship with their natural environment.

This societal form, like most others across Southern Africa, found itself destabilised by the arrival of colonial encroachers. By the 1960s, the region had witnessed fundamental transformations stemming from apartheid’s legalisation of land theft. These transformations changed…

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