publications 2022

Overlapping cultural commons and districts in the great Limpopo transfrontier conservation area: potential for local economic development

In the plethora of applications of Commons theory, the rise of Cultural Commons, as a specific research field, reflects the acknowledgement that various aspects come together when trying to analyse relationships in a given physical or virtual context. Despite the lack of an agreed definition, one cannot escape the understanding that Cultural Commons are found when identity is shared amongst a group of people. This may be classically represented by language, customs and traditions in a given landscape, although new frontiers are opening in information sharing, property rights, such as the Creative Commons, and other fields related to the globalisation of economic and social networks and processes. In the first case, which is the focus of our paper, the idiosyncrasy between social capital and natural capital is so inevitable that the development of factual Cultural Districts seems like the ‘formalisation’ of a natural process, whose resilience to externalities have been tried by historical processes. However, this experience may not be sufficient to promote local economic development when interacting with development projects or centralised planning that occur in the Cultural District, yet outside the sphere of decision-making of the primary stakeholders: the makers of the District. This paper, based on years of field work (in the East Southern African region), seeks to explore the nexus between Cultural Commons and Cultural Districts on the theoretical level, and suggests the possibility of a new sub-category of Cultural District. The Venda and Shangaan3 communities, which have been the object of research by the authors, are presented here as cross-border Cultural Districts due to the spread of the communities on the territory. They are used as examples to define what an Ethnic Cultural District is, and to advocate the importance of knowing and understanding such a District in order to mitigate conflicts and promote real local economic development, particularly when this stems from large scale centrally planned projects by national governments and/or international agencies. The first section is a conceptual discussion over Cultural Districts and introduces the idea of Ethnic Cultural District. The second section is the core of the paper as it presents the communities object of our research under a historical and socioeconomic perspective. The third section introduces the element of conservation as an externality in the development of the Districts. The last section, (before our conclusion), discusses the opportunities for local economic development and the threats to the Cultural District posed by a major conservation project in the area. The conclusions will re-discuss the requirements for the Ethnic Cultural District in the light of the knowledge presented in the paper.