NYIKA VANHU: THE LAND IS THE PEOPLE: An Examination of Natural Resource Management in Zimbabwe’s Communal Lands
Latham, Charles James Kingsley
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It is generally agreed that for the sustainable management of natural resources to be effective a degree of de-centralisation to local level is an essential requirement. This simple axiom conceals a multitude of conflicting issues. Central to these are the questions of scale of jurisdiction, systems of tenure and appropriate institutional arrangements. This thesis examines the management of natural resources in Zimbabwe’s Communal Lands using diachronic methodologies based on case studies and narratives through time and from selected sites. It attempts to unravel issues of complexity and institutional plurality and to determine the factors that encourage resilience and sustainability both of natural resources and of institutions of management. It is the postulate of this thesis that a critical ingredient for sustainability is the need to recognise the importance of worldviews. Unless there is a general institutional fit between epistemologies that have an ontological congruence with institutions of governance at local level, then programmes designed to enhance natural resource management are likely to lack sustainability. It is through institutions that have sufficient flexibility to allow for adaptive management, that encourage holistic, integrated systems of governance of daily life, that conservation and development of resources is operationalised. The data in this thesis supports the notion that in Zimbabwe’s communal lands the institutions that best meet these criteria are those rooted in the indigenous system of governance. These institutions, rooted in a strong kinship organisation, supported by a commonly held worldview and authenticated by customary law and practice, have exhibited a remarkable resilience. Despite the best intentioned interventions of successive central government regimes, it is these institutions of local level management that provide local communities with the necessary ‘rules of the game’ to manage their common pool resources as well as their traditionally held rights to individual holdings. A corollary that derives from this assertion is that central governments lack the resources to engage with local level communities other than on an irregular basis. They also often lack a genuine intention to de-centralise authority and control over resources to the local level. Techno-bureaucratic and political players in the field of resource allocation and management tend to hold views that are supported by Western science and encourage the notion that at community level people lack the sophistication, knowledge and institutional capacity to manage their own resources. My research would indicate that this is not the case. Indeed all the data in this thesis supports the notion that in the management of natural resources it is local communities that have an innate knowledge of their environment and a strong motivation to preserve it for their individual and community good. (A case study undertaken in a large-scale commercial farming area as a deliberate attempt to examine the dynamics of local level management of resources produced similar supportive data.) What was evident was that systems of management fail or lack sustainability because of institutional complexities and inhibitions imposed from above and because of a lack of genuine devolution to local level. My analysis of community based management of natural resource in the communal lands concluded by identifying the traditional ward (dunhu) community as being functionally the most appropriate unit of natural resource management, placed midway in the hierarchy of nested levels of jurisdiction within the indigenous governance system. It is the conclusion of the thesis that in order to maximise the energy and resilience of the indigenous institutions, systems of local government and of tenure over resources need to give genuine recognition to traditional institutions and the worldviews upon which they are founded.