The word ‘Conservation’ in African landscapes is a popular term. However, the word ‘conservation’ is rarely associated with cultural heritage resources present in these geographical spaces.
Because most of southern African protected landscapes conservation strategies are perceived through the lens of nature-based environmental indicators at the exclusion of culture-based environmental indicators. And neither is the word ‘environment’ popularly associated with cultural and heritage resources (see also discussion of this angle at http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-32017-5_2). Perhaps of more concern is that cultural and heritage derivatives of the environment are scarcely perceived as resources with a high potential to support environmental conservation in southern Africa, perhaps owing to their derivation from an already altered format (products of human change to nature based environment), as compared to natural resources which are perceived as ‘purely’ derived from nature.
Environment is a term that encompasses all products of life that ever existed in a landscape – including human activity. Yet most environmental conservationists’ perception of environment is nature, to an extent that associating the words “cultural” “cultural heritage”, “heritage” etc with the word conservation does not come easy to most African scholars and practitioners in both the nature (‘environment’) and nurture (cultural) camps
Haystacks in the context of this research are approaches, policies, and other strategies that obscure a focus on aspects of cultural and heritage resources in the broader environmental conservation discourse of African environments. These are diverse, as they range from disciplinary approaches to conservation knowledge production, policy frameworks at both national and international contexts, political status of areas under consideration, economic haystack as well as biophysical substance of landscapes in question.
In most of Africa, a biased focus on conservation minus cultural and heritage resources is to some large extent influenced by a biased focus on tourism (economic) proceeds. A reactionary approach based solely on economics obliviously blur relevance of cultural and heritage resources in environmental conservation. Such an approach fails to lead to a broader sustainable environmental conservation.
In spite of the haystack outlined earlier, there are various strategies to locate and make known the needle that is cultural and heritage resources. To start with, a change in perception, and perhaps terminology and phrases (semantics) that express the relationship between the so-called environment and cultural heritage resources has to be embarked on. Over time the approach can enable a change in the way the resources are viewed and engaged in relation to what is now termed nature parks and game reserves of African landscapes. One of the perceptions to be addressed is to address “heritage IN environment” rather than “heritage AND environment” phrases.
In addition, tourism by nature places landscapes in a capitalist context, and as such the revenue accrued from nature-tourism makes it difficult for practitioners and governments to consider other values attached to such geographical spaces. It is important that the subject of ‘sustainable interpretation’ of landscapes is considered to allow for broader and more engaging questions to be asked. International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) charter on interpretation (2008) can be helpful in this regard (Read ICOMOS charter application in an African landscape at the following publication: http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-32017-5_5
Overall, an ingrained bias towards a brand of protected areas as nature areas in Africa continues to blur recognition and acknowledgement of cultural and heritage resources as key components of national parks and game reserves environments conservation. A change of approach is necessary as an aim towards sustainable conservation of the environment in its totality.