Date of Award

Spring 4-1-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Donna Goldstein

Second Advisor

Najeeb Jan

Third Advisor

Carla Jones

Fourth Advisor

J. Terrence McCabe

Fifth Advisor

Paul Shankman


The business of pharmaceutical bioprospecting foregrounds enormous tensions between medicine, capitalism, and regulatory governance in countries like South Africa, where biological and knowledge diversity are plentiful but regulatory legislation and its enforcement are problematic. An exemplary context for this paradox is the site of my 2011 fieldwork, the former apartheid homeland of the Ciskei (now belonging to the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa), where efforts at governing the extraction of the medicinal plant Umckaloabo are haunted by apartheid’s faulty partitioning of power. Here, the expansion of apartheid-associated traditional authority and still-active apartheid-era laws combine with local government disorder and multinational corporate interests to shape the source end of a global pharmaceutical industry. In this dissertation, I argue that the Umckaloabo industry exposes the messy contact zone between “global” aspirations and “local,” postcolonial realities, where multinational corporate interests and international legal instruments like the Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefit Sharing play out in a context characterized by non/democratic tension and compromise. This dissertation highlights how the global biotrade in Umckaloabo—its legalities, its authorities and its victims—is profoundly shaped by the apartheid past and the neoliberal present.