Prof Doreen Atkinson

Chapter in a book.
The chapter is available from the author at

Municipal commonage land in South Africa is currently utilised by resource-poor black and coloured farmers. This paper analyses information from two case studies – the Karoo towns of Carnarvon and Williston in the Northern Cape. By comparing data between 2009 and 2018, we show that a significant number of these commonage farmers have increased their livestock holdings. In addition, several have moved their livestock onto ‘new’ commonage farms, purchased by Government, or on land leased from white commercial farmers. We argue that the concept of ‘economic class’ needs to be reintroduced to South African development analysis. The paper compares these proto-commercial farmers with the ‘kulak’ farmers of Russia in the early twentieth century (before the Soviet regime) and the early twenty-first century (after the collapse of communism). We concur with Russian authors that the emergence of new commercial farmers may constitute a new economic class. In South Africa, the situation is of course divergent, given that a strong class of commercial farmers exists. We suggest that the commonage farming phenomenon can make a contribution to current South African land debates.

This paper situates the question of shale gas mining in South Africa within broader debates on policy co-ordination within governmental systems. The prospect of shale gas mining has posed severe challenges for the complex inter-governmental system in South Africa. Three key Departments are affected by possible shale gas mining: Mineral Resources, Environmental Affairs and Water Resources. Each of these Departments have different relationships with the provincial and municipal “spheres of government”. The Department of Mineral Resources has attempted to promote shale gas mining with no reference to municipalities, whereas the other two Departments have attempted to build up municipal capacity. Municipalities have key functions which are protected in the Constitution. However, many municipalities are weak institutions, unwilling to defend their powers. The paper examines Municipal Integrated Development Plans in the potential shale gas region. Most municipalities seem to have no awareness at all of the shale gas issue. Recently, a High Court ruled that any shale gas mining regulations must be made by the Department of Environmental Affairs. With its more decentralist approach to governance, it will mean that municipalities will have more opportunities to participate in shale gas mining decisions.

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Since the early 2000s, the roll-out of the MeerKAT astronomy project and the subsequent Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project in the Carnarvon area of the northern Karoo has been remarkably rapid and well managed. This article argues that the project, and the Department of Science and Technology in South Africa, have taken on the characteristics of a ‘developmental state’. This is remarkable, particularly in the context of the general problem of high-level government corruption and ‘state capture’. In the process, the SKA project has also shown a significant degree of centralist direction, which has brought it into tension with the constitutional provisions for decentralised municipal leadership in developmental planning. The weakness of the relevant local and district municipalities can be ascribed to the general problems of poor financing and local leadership; in addition, the Department of Co-operative Governance, at both national and provincial levels, has made no meaningful effort to assist the municipalities in grappling with a highly sophisticated scientific project being implemented within their jurisdiction. In particular, the extensive land acquisition by SKA and its requirements for restrictions on radio-frequency interference may have extensive implications for local and regional development. The article engages with theories of a ‘developmental state’ in South Africa, by arguing that it is possible for a single department to adopt such a centralist modus operandi, even though the rest of the state is characterised by dysfunctions.

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 AfrikaBurn is a South African version of the Burning Man festival, held annually at Black Rock, Nevada, USA. AfrikaBurn is a participatory explosion of creativity, art, and innovation, which arises for a week on a remote desert floor in the Tankwa Karoo. 

The term municipal commonage is traditionally applied to land owned by a municipality or local authority. The land was usually acquired through state grants or from the church. The land was granted to serve the needs and interests of the poorer residents of the specific town. 

Commonage lost its traditional character when previously disadvantaged residents of small towns lost access to the commonage in the late 50’s and 60’s when commonage was classified as land, which fell within the white group areas and was leased to the highest private white bidder. Although the income raised in this manner provides for enhanced local economies, it meant that the land no longer served the purpose for which it had been granted. It also meant that ‘non-white’ groups could not bid to lease land and were excluded from the use of land that was historically available for all needy/poor residents of a specific town. 


The term “social fabric” embraces numerous complex and interrelated phenomena, including demographic and economic factors, behavioural issues (e.g. investment choices, political dynamics), social institutions (e.g. families), social organisations (e.g. municipalities and churches), and social networks, or relationships amongst people. The social fabric is underpinned by people’s beliefs and sentiments, including a sense of belonging and identification with a particular social unit.

This document, as well as the full CSIR report can be accessed at

 Culinary mapping and tourism development in South Africa’s Karoo region,  GE du Rand, Ingrid Booysen, Doreen Atkinson,African Journal of Hospitality, Tourism and Leisure Vol. 5 (4) – (2016).


Successful development of cuisine as a niche tourism product has been portrayed in various countries in the world. The paper argues that the Karoo provides evidence of a substantial culinary resource base and an established local food identity. This, in turn, can be promoted as a tourism destination by means of culinary mapping. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools are used, supported by a culinary database with information compiled from various sources in literature, the internet, lifestyle magazines, recipe books, census data and tourism structures. A proposed culinary route/itinerary synthesizes the data, identifying authentic food experiences as a niche tourism product, based on a regional cuisine.

Keywords: Culinary mapping, cuisine tourism, local food identity, regional cuisine, Karoo.


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For more tourism-related articles, see

Is South Africa’s Great Karoo Region becoming a tourism destination?, Doreen Atkinson, Journal of Arid Environments, vol. 127, April 2016.



Desert tourism has grown steadily in several regions of the world, due to a post-modern fascination with remoteness, barrenness, silence and solitude. This paper evaluates the trend towards tourism development in South Africa’s arid Karoo region. It utilises several methodologies – analysis of discourse, demand and supply – to track the changing profile of tourism in the Great Karoo. The paper concludes that the reputation of the Karoo has shifted profoundly from being hostile, dangerous and boring to being attractive, enticing and spiritual. At the same time, tourists are increasingly expressing favourable opinions of the Karoo as a destination, while accommodation facilities are growing apace. The overview also finds that tourism services in some Karoo towns are developing at a much faster rate than others, so the tourism performance is uneven. A survey of tourists in the Karoo found that the arid environment and small-town ambience offer significant attractions, and Karoo guest houses have a positive outlook for the future. These findings suggest that the Great Karoo is indeed in the process of becoming a tourism destination.

Free access to this article available until 25 February 2016: Click here

Is There a Case for Support for Smallholder Agriculture? A Response to Palmer and Sender Doreen Atkinson , Journal of Contemporary African Studies, Volume 24, Issue 3 pp. 377-383 | DOI: 10.1080/02589000600976703



The paper by Kim Palmer and John Sender makes the following argument:

Claim (i): Rural households are currently not benefiting much from agriculture.

Claim (ii): The current situation cannot be improved by policy changes (for example, in agricultural policy).

Conclusion: We should direct resources away from agriculture, to non-farm sources of income (for example, wages, social grants).

Palmer and Sender set their argument against the advocates of land reform and agrarian change who argue that land reform is important to promote rural liveli- hoods. They argue that the availability of more land will not improve the liveli- hoods of poor rural households.

The evidence is primarily statistical (which is on the whole very well presented). But the basis of their evidence does not lead to such a policy conclusion, because there is a missing premise. There are many other kinds of policy changes apart from land reform which could improve the effectiveness of agriculture. For ex- ample, the provision of productive rural infrastructure (farm roads, fences, dams, boreholes, shearing sheds, bridges); the provision of rural credit; more improved extension services; and improved marketing facilities and systems.


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