n Conflict Trends - Key social vulnerabilities to climate change in South Africa's coastal zones : the potential for conflict

Volume 2011, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 1561-9818


South Africa's 3 000 km coastline extends from Namibia's border in the west to Mozambique in the east, and comprises diverse climatic and biodiversity patterns. These natural endowments have facilitated coastal development in terms of infrastructure and business (industry, mining, ports, fisheries, tourism and real estate). South Africa is currently emerging as an important investor destination with an unparalleled spatial focus on the coast, with more development imminent. However, coastal development trends suggest that coastal areas are being largely transformed and that the natural resource base is being degraded as a result. Hence, the coast is often subject to a plethora of conflicting user groups competing for access to relatively unspoiled portions of the coastline, but are frequently also exposed to ecosystem degradation and/or over-exploitation.

South Africa is also diverse in terms of its socioeconomic and institutional settings, largely reconstructed in the aftermath of apartheid, which denied the majority access to coastal resources and services. Apartheid's legacy has left sharply divided socio-spatial patterns of development and underdevelopment along the coast, where the majority - mainly black Africans - remain trapped in vicious cycles of poverty and environmental degradation. Hence, South Africa's coastal society is marked by varied levels of inequalities, which suggest that divergent levels of social vulnerabilities require consideration in climate change dialogues. In terms of its institutional setting, restructuring since 1994 has witnessed significant changes in policy and legislation, with specific environmental management mandates and a significantly revised development agenda. However, an undeniable tension exists between the need to introduce environmental issues and concerns into planning and decision-making processes (often for the first time), and the need to accelerate development to address significant socioeconomic needs. As Roberts states: "This tension is exacerbated by the fact that environmental concerns are regarded as being of less significance than development priorities in South Africa."

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