Philile Mbatha spent a month in Kosi Bay, looking at livelihoods and governance

In April 2015, I travelled to Kosi Bay in northeast KwaZulu-Natal where I stayed for a month, continuing field research for my PhD study. My research seeks to link livelihoods to governance by looking at how multiple governance systems operating in the same area influence coastal livelihood strategies. Although the entire tribal authority under which Kosi Bay falls encompasses approximately 48 villages, my research is focused on three villages, i.e. Mvutshane, Nkovukeni and KwaDapha.

Kosi Bay is situated adjacent to and within the first UNESCO World Heritage Site in South Africa – iSimangaliso Wetland Park. Nkovukeni and KwaDapha villages are located inside the park, whereas Mvutshane village is located just outside the boundary of the park as a result of forced removals around the time the World Heritage Site was declared. However, people from Mvutshane still conduct a significant portion of their livelihood activities inside iSimangaliso. These activities include fishing (in fish traps in the Kosi estuary and on the coast), as well as harvesting forest resources for various uses.

The coastal area in which people from the three villages conduct their livelihood activities is not only protected under World Heritage Site status, but is also a Marine Protected Area and has Coastal Forest Reserve status. These conservation approaches are governed by different legal instruments and are enforced by conservation representatives from iSimangaliso Wetland Park and the provincial conservation authority – Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. At the local level two sources of law are relevant: namely traditional authority rule led by the Tembe Tribal Authority and statutory rule through the Umhlabuyalingana Local Municipality and UMkhanyakude District Municipality. Local leadership is highly contested among these different authorities, and within the traditional structures themselves. The co-existence of these multiple layers of governance, often poorly coordinated, has huge implications for the livelihoods of the people residing in these villages.

Some preliminary findings:

  • Kosi Bay is commonly viewed and documented as one homogenous community with similar livelihoods, needs and issues. This research has revealed that livelihood experiences vary significantly among the three villages and need to be understood and governed in a more nuanced and specific manner.
  • The state-imposed governance systems have a direct influence on the livelihoods that people pursue, and the livelihood choices they make. These state imposed legal systems are at odds with customary governance systems that operate in the villages of Kosi Bay. Furthermore, increasing restrictions on the use of resources and local development activities (e.g. ecotourism and infrastructure) within the park boundaries are impacting local livelihoods and wellbeing. In some instances people find a way to maneuver around the governance system to find loopholes in order to support their livelihoods.