Environmental change in Riemvasmaak, Northern Cape, South Africa twenty years after resettlement

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

The 75,000 ha area of Riemvasmaak, located north of the Orange River within the Northern Cape Province, is an important case study with regard to land restitution and livestock impacts upon arid rangelands hypothesized to be at disequilibrium. As part of a 'black spot' removal program during apartheid, about 1,500 people from Riemvasmaak were forcibly moved off their land in 1974. With many returning to the area in January 1995, Riemvasmaak represented the first successful land restitution case in post-apartheid South Africa. This study follows up on a long-term environmental monitoring project set up in 1995 and revisited in 2005 and early 2015 to determine the impact of the returnees on the vegetation and ecology of the region. It builds upon the repeat photography methodology utilized by Hoffman et al. (1995) and Hoffman and Todd (2010) in order to provide a robust and accessible measure of change in the herbaceous and woody components of the vegetation. The percentage cover of herbaceous and woody vegetation was visually estimated in repeat photographs from 27 photo stations for the years 1995, 2005, and 2015. The results of a linear mixed-effects model suggest that herbaceous vegetation decreased significantly from 1995 to 2005 (p< 0.001) and increased significantly from 2005 to 2015 (p< 0.001) while woody cover did not change significantly from 1995-2015. There was no difference in these trends between the three landform units assessed (rivers, sandy pediments and rocky slopes). Linear regressions utilizing size class and density of individuals for Acacia erioloba (Vachellia erioloba) indicated that there had been little recruitment over the period 1995-2015 in comparison to the period prior to the initial survey in 1995. Fifteen face-to-face interviews with livestock owners, herders, and the local Agricultural Collective in 2015 outlined the socioeconomic and cultural changes that had occurred in Riemvasmaak since 1995. One such change, a directive issued by the Riemvasmaak Municipality in 2009, that ownership of livestock would no longer be allowed within Municipality boundaries, resulted in the removal of livestock from Riemvasmaak in the years directly before 2015 and corresponded temporally with the rise in herbaceous cover seen in 2015.