This paper investigates the proliferation of high‐end private game reserves in Africa as the manifestation of an emerging economic but also symbolic and emotional investment in the value of nature. Increasing concern for ‘the environment’ along with anxiety about the future of individual species has given the game reserve a special place in the contemporary global imagination. Through analysis of some of the ephemeral texts through which these fantasies and anxieties about nature are articulated – an advertisement, some publicity material and a design monograph – this paper explores a number of different objects which serve to mediate the relationship between the public and nature. Both the 4×4 whose increasing popularity seems to parallel that of the game reserve, and the carefully designed and decorated game lodges offer examples of the complex way in which the experience of nature needs to be mediated by objects in order to confirm nature as a site for the rediscovery of authenticity. Around the game lodge, I argue, there emerges a new discursive mode for articulating Africa, and South Africa’s relationship with the world, a novel aesthetic known as the ‘New Safari’. This design category goes beyond design to construct a moral and experiential fantasy in which conservation not as a practice but rather as an imagined value makes possible a disturbing reconceptualisation of the relation between the national and the global.
1. An article in the journal Conservation Biology indicates that most reserve mangers at least conceive of environmental protection as their primary role (Langholz Citation1996).
2. The term ‘assemblage’ comes from the work of Gille Deleuze and Felix Guattari and is used to describe the complex and non‐linear relation between components across different scales and orders of a system. Donna Haraway made use of the phrase, ‘dense assemblages’, to describe the complex knot of relations present in engagements between species, and between animate subjects and their surroundings (General discussion, Finding Animals Conference, Pennsylvannia State University, 30 April –2 May 2009).
3. For a discussion of the complex nature of conservation in Tanzania, see Roderick Neumann’s (Citation1998) Imposing Wilderness: Struggles over Livelihood and Nature Preservation in Africa.
4. Ferguson refers to Roderick Neumann’s study of parks in Tanzania and notes that community participation has not replaced militarisation; rather, it has supplemented it (Ferguson Citation2006, p. 43).
5. According to Van Eeden, complaints were lodged by members of the public, the Human Rights Commission, the Commission on Gender Equality and the Namibian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Information and Broadcasting (Van Eeden Citation2006, p. 348).
6. Information about the interior design monograph from personal conversation with architect and cultural theorist Noëleen Murray.
8. Fraser is described in an article in the online magazine Just the Planet as a ‘renowned lifestyle photographer’. In an interview with Fraser published by the magazine, Fraser makes the following comment: ‘Game lodges allow one to travel back in time, “before man”. They take you to a place so far removed from everyday urban life, providing a complete escape and a life‐changing experience that puts life into perspective’ (Just the Planet nd.)
9. MacCannell suggests that: ‘The touristic ideal of the “primitive” is that of a magical resource that can be used without actually possessing or diminishing it’ (Citation1992, p. 28). This is a ‘utopian vision’ of the relation between tourist and ‘other’, which MacCannell argues is impossible.
10. In the comment quoted earlier in the paper. Baudrillard emphasises that the architect in his restored country cottage, ‘fundamentally has no part to play here, his entire social existence lies elsewhere’ (Baudrillard Citation1996, p. 83). In a similar way the work of the lodge is to simulate such a ‘social existence’.