Sunday, November 2, 2008

Property value?

This article describes the community of Pella, South Africa, and the townspeople's rejection of a proposed film studio construction project. The village is surrounded by what, to our eyes, appears to be lots of dry, empty land punctuated by the occasional hill or ridge. A similar studio was built in Morrocco a few years ago. The company, Desert Star Studios, sent a 102-page proposal to the local government outlining their plans. The villagers of Pella would be provided a 74,000 acre location 50 miles away in which to build a new town.

Desert Star, however, went to the wrong people:
The Rev. Cyril Smith, whose cathedral would have been made into a Mexican village film set, says the consortium miscalculated the level of opposition and the legal status of the land. "They should have consulted the residents first but they didn't, which made them very angry," he says. "The government, as trustees, aren't allowed to sell this land without their consent, so the film studios will not happen."
The land is sacred to the people of Pella (note to CSM: putting quote marks around that word is inappropriate. Nobody calls it "holy" Communion). Rudolf Markgraaf, one of the first producers to line up a film at the yet-unbuilt facilities, seems amazed that the villagers would turn it down:
"This area is desperately poor with 70 percent unemployment, high rates of AIDS, and limited facilities like hospitals and schools ...
"We had letters of support from the [African National Congress] Youth League, the ANC Women's League, and another group begging us to make it happen," Markgraaff says. "They're not doing anything with this land."

"You only have to look at Quarzazate in Morocco to see the potential," says Markgraaff. "There was nothing there before they built production facilities – now they've produced 42 films in the past 10 years attracting investment of $1.2 billion."

Lack of property values and security are sometimes cited as reasons for Africa's current last-place standing in the global economy. Here's an apparent victory: the people who own their land got to hang onto it. But is it really a victory? At first I thought: but the studio would be such a step forward! They could build a school, more jobs would come in, the town could really grow.

But I was applying my own values to the situation, even after all my profs' attempts to beat the ethnocentrism out of me. Mr. Margraaf, Desert Star and I don't understand the connection the people of Pella have to their land. What looks like "not doing anything" to our eyes could really be something entirely different. And as for the success of the Morrocco studios, what were the on-the-ground effects? Are the massive profits and investments really making a positive difference? When weighing the costs and benefits of the construction project, the villagers decided that land tenue surpassed any other concern.

Part of me is still struggling to figure it out. I know that in one way or another, the village is going to become incorporated into the regional economy whether it wants to or not. Frustrated here, Desert Star will probably find another village in northern South Africa and build there; the increased activity will no doubt affect Pella. I might think I know what's best for the villagers, but those opinions come from within my own cultural framework. To say that I know what's best for them is paternalism. The people of Pella got what they wanted - to keep their land. We'll have to see what happens next.


Gaining Back My Life said...

You've been tagged....

Here are the rules:

1.Link to the person who tagged you
2.Mention the rules on your blog
3.Tell 6 unspectacular quirks about you
4.Tag 6 following bloggers by linking to them
5.Leave a comment on each of the tagged blogger's blogs letting them know they've been tagged.

OldeWhig said...

If you buy that value is subjective, I don't think this is really that much of a puzzle.