Of Territorialization and Transplantation: The Contradictions of a Settler Garden in South Africa

Henkel’s 1903 volume included pages of advertising at the back, including his son’s nursery in Umtata (p. XI) and another seller of imported fruit trees (p. XII)

By Derick Fay, University of California, Riverside §

Located in what is now the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, the Haven Hotel is nested within concentric circles of settler demarcation. With changes in South African society, the projects represented by these demarcations have shifted over time. The hotel occupies a space historically designated for white recreational use within a State Forest turned Nature Reserve, which itself sits within a region formerly set aside as a “reserve” for African laborers rather than white settlers.  This essay excavates this site through a series of historical vignettes from the 1870s, prior to direct colonialism, to the late 2000s, as a way of exploring the uneven spatial and temporal (dis)continuities and spatial contradictions of settler colonialism.

The coastline of the region, most commonly known by its homeland-era designation as the Transkei (literally “across the Kei River” from the metropolitan Cape Colony), is a mosaic of rocky bluffs, sandy beaches, low dune forests and estuaries.  At the mouth of the Mbashe River stand the Cwebe and Dwesa Forests, spanning approximately 18 km of coastline, and extending inward for 3-5 km.

Before any whites had settled around Cwebe, colonization was affecting the landscape.  The earliest colonial records and oral histories converge in describing the forests as a site of refuge from the upheavals brought by white settlement in the Cape Colony to the west.  The colony’s frontier had been gradually moving eastward through a series of wars over the previous century; the latest had driven the Xhosa King Sarhili east across the Kei.  One can imagine a scene from May 1878: artillery shells from a Royal Navy vessel offshore toppling trees, sending clouds of dust and fire rising over the Indian Ocean, while a band of young Xhosa men hid deep within the coastal forest known as Cwebe, after days of pursuit by British troops and their African allies.  Many of these Xhosa men would have known the forest from a more peaceful time, as part of hunting parties accompanying the now-fugitive Xhosa Chief Sarhili.  Bushbuck, reedbuck, and even buffalo could be found in the forest, but today they would only have time to check a few snares for duikers, before fleeing the eastern end of the forest, across the Ntlonyane River, to evade their pursuers.


Imagining Plantations, Planting Tourism, ca. 1880-1940

The colonial period brought a new zeal for commercialization of the forests that had nominally come under colonial authority after the defeat of Sarhili’s troops in 1878.  In the late 1880s, German-born forester Caesar C. Henkel visited the area following his appointment as the first Conservator of Forests for the Transkeian Territories, eager to develop the newly-acquired land.  After the war, Africans had reoccupied the pockets of grassland within the forests.  But at Cwebe, this clashed with Henkel’s vision of commercial exploitation by whites.  By the early 1890s, he called for the expulsion of Africans residing in the forests, and hailed the commercial potential of the forests and the pockets of grassland within the demarcated areas, writing that with the removals, “the Government has thus acquired most valuable areas, suitable for the cultivation of sugar-cane, coffee, tea, [and] mangos” (Henkel 1893:136, cited in Fay et al. 2002: 53).

This enthusiasm was part of a vision that extended across the region.  Henkel would go on to author a volume aimed at attracting prospective settlers to the Transkei (Henkel 1903), “imbued with optimism and the promise of progress” (Beinart and Bundy 1987: 6), and envisioning a landscape where “natives” both human and botanical will give way to settlers.  His chapter that includes recommendations on planting, (“The Farm, the Orchard, the Kitchen and Flower Garden in the Transkeian Territories,” pp. 79-100) is strikingly indifferent to the origins of the plants he put forward for cultivation.  He recommends such exotics as eucalyptus, lantana, guava, bougainvillea, canary creeper, loquats, hedychia, oleander, pampas grass, among many others.


Henkel’s 1903 volume included pages of advertising at the back, including his son’s nursery in Umtata (p. XI) and another seller of imported fruit trees (p. XII)
Henkel’s 1903 volume included pages of advertising at the back, including his son’s nursery in Umtata (p. XI) and another seller of imported fruit trees (p. XII)

In practice, by the 1930s, Henkel’s commercial vision met with little success at Dwesa-Cwebe, given the remoteness of the region, and overarching state policies that favored keeping the region as an African labor reserve.  The plantations he had imagined had not taken root, nor had commercial exploitation of the forest: the Forest Department’s 1931 Annual Report would describe Cwebe as among “the only forests to remain unscathed” (cited in Fay et al.: 56); firebreaks were maintained, but the distance from potential markets meant that only a few species had been commercially exploited, with little success.

The forests were not a site of settler production but a site of recreation: a handful of local whites had built holiday cottages, one of which had been developed by a Scottish immigrant, E. Reid, as a boarding house called, “the Haven.” What had been a refuge for Africans fleeing colonial advances, had become instead a refuge for white traders and state officials in what remained an overwhelmingly African region.  One can imagine an elderly former colonial magistrate and his family settling into a cabin at KwaRidi, as local residents knew it, now occupied the site below where a Xhosa soldier known as Khonza had settled after the 1877-78 frontier war, before being evicted by the Forest Department.  The magistrate might even have met him—dozens of Africans appealed to the Native Affairs Department to plead their case after Henkel and his successors gave orders for their families to move from within the boundaries of Cwebe Forest from the 1890s to 1920s.  But tourism, like forestry, was seen as incompatible with African settlement: the few African homesteads remaining in the forest would be removed in the 1930s, while the Haven would receive a formal designation “for European holdings as [a] Seaside Resort Area” (in Fay et al. 2002: 81).

Tourism nevertheless brought new cultivation and exploitation to the landscape.  Reid had laid out a pair of gardens to feed the guests and set the scene.  Guavas, bananas and granadillas from Mr. Reid’s garden graced the breakfast table, some days with oranges brought down from the grove behind the Hobeni Store.  Chickens running in the yard provided fresh eggs, and the hotel, like the Forest Department, ran small herds of cattle and sheep in the open clearings within the forest.  Duiker and bushbuck were less likely to be on hotel menu than local seafood; every night, Africans sold the hotel mussels and crayfish they had gathered on the rocks, and fish they had caught in the Bashee [Mbashe] River estuary, and these would make their way onto the dinner table.


Colonial Transplants in the Post-Apartheid Era

By the 1990s, commercial forestry was definitively off the official agenda, and other forms of direct exploitation of the landscape would soon be suppressed.  Dwesa-Cwebe had been legally designated as a Nature Reserve in 1975; the landscape desired by official territorialization was one that secured nature as pristine and untrammeled, conserving of local biodiversity, not as a source of timber revenue.  Local residents were mounting a land restitution claim that encompassed the Haven, but the terms under which this was resolved in 2001 left the project of conservation intact (Fay 2009).  The hotel site remained an island of recreation, no longer an officially “European” enclave in an “African” region, but an anomaly in relation to the project of biodiversity conservation. In this context, one conservation official involved in the land claim negotiations noted the “highly unusual” situation of a commercial hotel—largely catering to fishermen and the host of annual fishing tournaments—operating in the middle of a state Nature Reserve.

This vision for the landscape had several consequences.  One was the re-demarcation and aggressive policing of the Dwesa-Cwebe Marine Protected area, restricting recreational fishing and sharply hurting the hotel’s business, as well as undermining the livelihoods of local Xhosa fishermen.  The second was an attempt to reverse the impacts of Reid’s gardens.  With the exception of locally caught and gathered seafood, provisioning of the hotel was increasingly a matter of sending a truck to the supermarkets in Mthatha or, more recently, Elliotdale, as South African grocery retailers expanded into the former homelands and tourist tastes demanded the standardized fruits and vegetables associated with commercial production.  The vegetable and ornamental gardens were largely unmaintained, and to an untrained eye, they might resemble superficially the adjacent indigenous forest, but areas planted with bananas and guavas could still be found; the guavas in particular had spread from the hotel grounds, as local boys who picked the fruit would leave trails of seeds and partly eaten guavas as they made their way back to their inland homesteads.

Looking down towards Reid’s garden from the Haven, with indigenous forest in the background.  A few banana trees are visible at the right end of the garden. Photo by the author.
Looking down towards Reid’s garden from the Haven, with indigenous forest in the background.  A few banana trees are visible at the right end of the garden. Photo by the author.

From a conservation perspective, these were alien plants to be eradicated.  Reid’s garden, once a potential marker of civilization and progress, with its imported fruits and flowers, had now become a threat to the conservation of local biodiversity.  It was amidst this new reading of the landscape that South Africa’s Work for Water program hired local residents to remove a variety of alien species.  Rather than lead to eradication, though, these measures appear as a catalyst for a shift in gardening practices in the community outside the Nature Reserve; the workers “eradicated” the guava by digging it up and replanting it at their homesteads in the villages around the protected area.  In 1998, only 15 per cent of households had fruit trees, with only 12 trees among them. By 2009, 60 per cent of households had fruit trees, with a total of 106 trees, and the proportion of households growing guavas in particular increased from 1 in 16 to nearly 1 in 3 (Fay 2013: 255), with bananas and peach trees making up the balance, along with a handful of citrus.

 Winter gardening in Hobeni.  Note in the lower right the lantana camara (utywala bentaka in Xhosa, or “bird’s brandy”), cultivated for medicinal purposes and to add flavor to imifino (wild greens). Photo by the author.
Winter gardening in Hobeni.  Note in the lower right the lantana camara (utywala bentaka in Xhosa, or “bird’s brandy”), cultivated for medicinal purposes and to add flavor to imifino (wild greens). Photo by the author.

The overarching reasons for this shift are complex (see Fay 2013 for a detailed discussion).  It is clear, though, that if there is “blowback” against Reid’s garden at present, it is not opposition to the colonizing plants, but to the change in the way conservation authorities now evaluate and treat these plants; these botanical settlers are now welcomed even as the successors of colonial foresters would prefer to see them eradicated.  Despite overall continuities in the logic of exclusion from the 1890s, here, as in so many places in southern Africa, contradictory projects of territorialization have proven malleable by virtue of their dependence on the labor of Africans who may not share the settler visions.

Works cited

Detailed references for the archival material upon which this essay is based can be found in Fay, D., Timmermans, H., and Palmer, R. 2002. Chapter Four: Competing for the forests: Annexation, demarcation and their consequences from c. 1878 to 1936 and Chapter Five: Closing the Forests: Segregation, Exclusion and their Consequences from 1936 to 1994. In From conflict to negotiation: nature-based development on South Africa’s Wild Coast. Palmer, R., Timmermans, H., and Fay, D., eds. Pretoria: Human Sciences Research Council.  Full text available from http://www.hsrcpress.ac.za/product.php?productid=1974&freedownload=1

Additional sources

Fay, D. 2009. Property, subjection and protected areas : the restitution of Dwesa-Cwebe nature reserves, South Africa. In The Rights and Wrongs of Land Restitution: ‘Restoring What Was Ours’. Derick Fay and Deborah James, eds, pp. 25-42. London: Routledge-Cavendish.

Fay, D. 2013. Cultivators in Action, Siyazondla Inaction? Trends and Potential in Homestead Cultivation in Rural Mbhashe Municipality. In In the Shadow of Policy. Everyday practices in South Africa’s land and agrarian reform. Hebinck, P. and Cousins, B., eds. pp. 247-262. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.

Henkel, C.C. 1903.  History, resources and productions of the country between Cape Colony and Natal, or Kaffraria proper, now called the Native or Transkeian Territories.  Cape Town: Jute.  Available online at https://archive.org/details/historyresources00henkuoft

Henkel, C.C. 1893. Report of the Conservator of Forests Transkeian Conservancy for the Year 1893, In Reports of the Conservators of Forests, for the Year 1893. Cape Town: Department of Agriculture.

Republic of South Africa. 2014. Alien and Invasive Species Lists issued in terms of National Environmental Management: Biodiversity Act (No. 10 of 2004). https://www.environment.gov.za/sites/default/files/gazetted_notices/nemba10of2004_alienandinvasive_speciesrelist.pdf

Derick Fay’s research tracks the long-term consequences of the end of apartheid in South Africa, analyzing changes and continuities in rural Xhosa-speaking peoples’ livelihoods and access to land and natural resources, the effects and limits of post-apartheid policies, and the tensions between post-apartheid transformation and biodiversity conservation.  His current research interests focus in particular on law and its intersections with land restitution, conservation and neoliberalism.  He is currently completing a book manuscript entitled A South African Landscape in Transition: Land, Livelihoods and Resettlement in the Post-Apartheid Transkei.  Recent publications include “After restitution: Community, litigation and governance in South African land reform” (with Christiaan Beyers) in African Affairs 114:456 (2015), “‘Keeping Land for Their Children’: Generation, Migration and Land in South Africa’s Transkei” in Journal of Southern African Studies 41:5 (2015), and “Studying up after studying down: Dilemmas of research on South African conservation professionals” forthcoming in Critical African Studies.

This post is part of our thematic series: Life on the Frontier: The Environmental Anthropology of Settler Colonialism.