Accepted Paper:

Local Veterinary and Environmental Knowledge in Mpondoland: Is there a Crisis in Livestock Management?   


William Beinart (Oxford University)

Paper long abstract:

My paper grows out of a series of research projects on the relationship between environmental knowledge and veterinary medicine in South Africa. Previous research has focused on the emergence of scientific knowledge and practices. This paper explores knowledge about, and use of, environmental resources by African people in Mpondoland - an African-occupied rural area of South Africa. In particular it focuses on the management of livestock. Livestock are still culturally and economically important in this area, which is amongst the poorest in South Africa. Livestock transactions are the largest segment of the rural informal economy. But there is a crisis with respect to animal health. State veterinary services have largely been withdrawn. Livestock owners are left to cope with diseases themselves. My paper analyses how they do this and emphasizes the importance of environmental resources, and knowledge. It explores systems of transhumance and the nature of herbal remedies. It develops an analysis of hybrid knowledge that draws both on older systems of African medicine, and ideas introduced in the colonial era.

My argument is that even in a very traditionalist part of South Africa, a version of bio-medical explanations are offered for some key animals diseases, but that these sit alongside other forms of explanation and treatment which rely more heavily on knowledge of grazing and plants. There are also important reasons for livestock owners to hold onto their old patterns of transhumance. Knowledge about, and acceptance of, herbal remedies is, however, uneven. Some feel that without the power and resources of the state, they will not control the worst of diseases, notably tickborne diseases. For them, however, the actions of the state are illegible. Knowledge about diseases is imperfect. A number of different individual strategies are pursued. I will explore the idea of fragmented knowledge, as much as hybrid environmental knowledge, in a context of rapid social change. I will also suggest that local knowledge does not appear sufficient to manage what many livestock owners perceive to be a crisis in management.

Panel F5
Environmental knowledge and African philosophy