The days when environmental concerns were confined to preserving the natural habitat of plants and wild animals in a handful of nature reserves and national parks are over.
We can no longer ignore the fact that our continued existence as a species depends on multi-pronged efforts to protect our planet and its biosphere from being destroyed at our own hands. This defense of the global environment takes place on a terrain which is contested by a wide range of interests, including those concerned about the survival of plant and animal species and those intent on preserving human cultural identities and securing environmental justice, as well as those hell-bent on industrial expansion and the exploitation of natural resources wherever profitable.
Nowhere else is the battle between these overlapping interests more apparent than in South Africa’s Mapungubwe region.
Not only is the greater Mapungubwe area the location of a National Park of great importance for the conservation of local wildlife and flora, as well as part of an intended future transfrontier park of international significance, but it is also a World Heritage Site that carries evidence for tens of thousands of years of human settlement. Unfortunately, this area also happens to contain major coal deposits and the South African government has recently granted permission for mining to go ahead right next to the Mapungubwe National Park.
In looking at environmental issues like those around Mapungubwe, we can sometimes forget about the cultural implications. We look at a landscape and its plant and animal inhabitants with little regard for the humans who co-inhabit that landscape with them. We tend to overlook the fact that people may have lived in the area for generations and the fact that their cultural identity and their social history is intricately entwined with the very spaces we’re hoping to preserve from destruction and so-called development.
The story of Vele Neluvhalani, whose ancestors lived and are buried at Mapungubwe, is a very powerful example of the way the fight for the protection of the natural environment is intricately linked to our own human history and heritage.
Vele’s story is beautifully told in this short video clip:
As environmental activists, we simply can’t ignore environmental justice issues such as those addressed by Vele. People like him, who share stories of intimate interconnectedness with the endangered ecosystems they live in, should be our most valued allies in the battle to save these very ecosystems.
Sign the Care2 petition
If you want to help stop the coal mine and power station, please sign the Care2 petition against coal mining at Mapungubwe.
Andreas is a book shop manager and freelance writer in Cape Town, South Africa. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath
Photo from: Stock.Xchng
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