Ethnographic insights on rural sustainability; homestead design and permaculture of Eastern Cape settlements in South Africa


  • Adam F Perry University of Fort Hare



amaXhosa, agrarianism, built environment, permaculture, development, homestead settlement, anthropology, ethnography


This article considers the prevalence of sustained agricultural practices (particularly large scale gardens of the homestead) and questions current public debate that permaculture strategy is foreign to South Africa. The paper speaks on recent ethnographic work by the author in rural parts of the Eastern Cape, or the former Transkei. The article makes comparisons to some of the founding principles of permaculture theory and practice to suggest that current agricultural practices and homestead (umzi, plural imizi) settlement patterns follow closely to "permaculture ideals" in theory and practice. An argument is made that the rural Xhosa homestead has developed much more to the tune of achieving sustainability for its occupants, as many continue to build to accommodate subsistence agriculture. Natural resources of the area also continue to be utilized and collectively shared. Whilst, the design strategy of incorporating animal enclosures (uthango, plural iintango, or ubuhlanti, plural iintlanti) within the homestead aid residents, as animal waste is utilized for fuel and fertilizer. The paper critiques ideas that believe rural areas to be "de-agrarianised", or solely supported by the welfare state. A further critique is raised because of the idealised manner in which foreign ideas on development are esteemed as better than regional adaptations. The paper displays scepticism for Eastern Cape development models or those perceptions that do not account for local land use practices. Ultimately, the author critiques development models that do not delve deeply into how people incorporate settlement structures to maximise upon the use of natural resources.




How to Cite

Perry, Adam F. 2018. “Ethnographic Insights on Rural Sustainability; Homestead Design and Permaculture of Eastern Cape Settlements in South Africa”. Africanus: Journal of Development Studies 43 (1):115-25.