Jobs, water or conservation? Deconstructing the Green Economy in South Africa’s Working for Water Programme

David Bek, Etienne Nel, Tony Binns

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South Africa’s Working for Water (WfW) programme launched in 1995 has received national and international acclaim for its attention to clearing alien species and providing employment among historically disadvantaged communities. In recent years, the Green Economy narrative has pervaded the national policy agenda, with the WfW programme being showcased as a symbol of Green Economy praxis. The paper considers recent developments in WfW and whether its objectives have been achieved in light of tensions and constraints associated with the macro-policy environment. Drawing upon evidence from field-based research in Western Cape Province, the experience of the Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative (ABI) is examined, in which a number of stakeholders including private landowners, community members and local government bodies are collaborating in a landscape management initiative. Despite some worthwhile benefits, ABI has suffered from some problems and contradictions. In the future such projects need to have stronger environmental objectives, but in reality these are likely to be constrained by neo-liberal thinking at national and supra-national levels.

Publisher Statement: NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in Environmental Development. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in Environmental Development, [(in press), (2017)] DOI: 10.1016/j.envdev.2017.07.002

© 2017, Elsevier. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)136-145
Number of pages10
JournalEnvironmental Development
Early online date11 Jul 2017
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2017


  • Working for Water
  • South Africa
  • Alien species clearance
  • Green Economy
  • Employment
  • Agulhas Biodiversity Initiative

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