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Review Article

Drivers and trajectories of social and ecological change in the Karoo, South Africa

Published in: African Journal of Range & Forage Science
Volume 35, issue 3-4, 2018 , pages: 157–177
DOI: 10.2989/10220119.2018.1518263
Author(s): Cherryl WalkerDepartment of Sociology and Social Anthropology, South Africa, Suzanne J MiltonWolwekraal Conservation and Research Organisation, South Africa, Tim G O’ConnorSouth African Environmental Observation Network (SAEON): Arid Lands Node, South Africa, Judy M Maguireunaffiliated, South Africa, W Richard J DeanWolwekraal Conservation and Research Organisation, South Africa


This review article explores past, present and possible future drivers of change in Karoo social-ecological systems. Biogeographically, the Karoo comprises the arid Succulent Karoo and Nama-Karoo biomes covering significant portions of the Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Western Cape provinces and a smaller part of the Free State. Despite the Karoo’s specific environment and spatial importance nationally (covering some 30% of South Africa), no government structures address its needs holistically. Today it is a politically and economically marginalised region; perceptions of it as a desert easily morph into perceptions of it as deserted and ripe for exploitation for the benefit of external constituencies, whether in the name of astronomy, shale-gas and uranium mining or renewable energy. To manage the Karoo better for present and future generations, it is clearly desirable for social and natural scientists to work collaboratively, yet there is relatively little interdisciplinary work to date. Against this background this review article provides an overview of social and ecological changes historically and in the present, and offers some cautious reflections concerning climate change, changing land use and governance as key drivers affecting trajectories of change into the future.

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