There is an ongoing debate about the sustainability of South African communal rangelands as old views on overgrazing and degradation are being widely challenged. The degradation issue has recently received renewed attention in the light of land reform, as this is expected to lead to an increase in the area of South Africa which is held under some form of communal tenure. District-level data on vegetation and soil degradation (Hoffman et al. 1999) have shown that communal districts have significantly higher levels of soil erosion, and that communal and commercial districts experience very different vegetation changes under the same environmental conditions, even if livestock densities are similar. The implications of this for communal livestock farmers are still under debate, and the interrelationships between high human population density, high stocking rates, land degradation and people’s livelihoods need to be better understood for land reform to result in economically and ecologically sustainable land use. This case study of a land reform pilot project in the Eastern Cape focuses on the changes in the biophysical environment, particularly soils and vegetation, which are likely to result from the change of land tenure and land use on Gallawater A
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