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Going in: The Garden of England's Gaming Zookeeper and Zululand

Malcolm Draper and Gerhard Maré
Journal of Southern African Studies
Vol. 29, No. 2 (Jun., 2003), pp. 551-569
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3557377
Page Count: 19
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Going in: The Garden of England's Gaming Zookeeper and Zululand
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Abstract

John Aspinall (1926-2000) was an eccentric, wealthy English plutocrat, private zoo-owning conservationist, gambling casino czar, 'white Zulu' patron of the Inkatha Freedom Party in South Africa, and conservative Euro-sceptic politician. He was controversially famous in many spheres, not least for his advocacy and practice of what he called 'going in'. This refers to keepers crossing the boundaries between 'wild' animals and people, entering the zoo enclosures, and bonding with animals such as wolves, tigers and gorillas. In this exploration of an intricate web of social and natural relations, Aspinall serves as our guide to 'going in' - the transgression and occasional blurring of boundaries. Through following Aspinall's career in all the above spheres, we are able to show how, at the level of the elite around the globe, disparate national identities marry and work together to shape environments. In the 'garden of England' (Kent), endangered species such as black rhino were bred in his wildlife parks and returned 'home' to Zululand wilderness. The reactionary politics of English tribalism within Europe found common cause with the politics of Zulu nationalism, which was ideologically endorsed and materially fed. In the style of the mafia, capitalist interests and political patronage were linked by Aspinall's gaming fantasies in the 'Palace of the [Zulu] Kings' theme-park casino bid for Durban - a vision of a transformed space in the urban environment. In Aspinall's world, the natural was seen as ascendant over the cultural. His ideas share a pedigree with the English environmentalists of the 1960s and 1970s and he has been noted as one of the original 'green warriors'. In recent scholarship combining environmental sociology and history, Aspinall's pioneering work in zoological conservation at the frontiers of animal-human relations is singled out as a hopeful example of postmodern culture which, at the same time, generates a misanthropic discourse of disgust with modern humanity. This article traces a significant flight of the northern imagination to the south and shows how word has been translated into deed during the last decade of the twentieth century.

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