Editorial staff
 Table of Contents
 Transforming traditional institutions...
 Participation and stakeholder dynamics...
 Allocation of governmental authority...
 Challenges facing a community structure...
 Can we be engineers of property...
 The organizational structures for...
 Participatory natural resource...
 Evolving institutional framework...
 Book reviews

Title: African studies quarterly
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Title: African studies quarterly
Series Title: Gale Group
Uniform Title: African studies quarterly (Online)
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Creator: University of Florida -- Center for African Studies
Publisher: University of Florida, Center for African Studies,
University of Florida, Center for African Studies
Place of Publication: Gainesville, Fla
Publication Date: Fall 2001
Copyright Date: 2010
Frequency: quarterly
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African studies -- Periodicals
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Abstract: Presents "African Studies Quarterly," an electronic journal published quarterly by the Center for African Studies at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Posts contact information for the editorial office via street address, telephone number, and e-mail. Lists advisory board and staff members. Offers access to the current issue, as well as to previous issues. Contains articles and related book reviews. Provides information on submissions and links to "African Anthropology."
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General Note: Title from title screen (viewed Aug. 6, 1999).
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Table of Contents
        Page i
    Editorial staff
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    Table of Contents
        Page iv
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    Transforming traditional institutions for sustainable natural resource management: History and evidence from Zimbabwe's communal areas
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    Participation and stakeholder dynamics in the water reform process in Zimbabwe: The case of the Mazoe pilot catchment board
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    Allocation of governmental authority and responsibility in tiered governance regimes: The case of the Chivi rural district council landuse planning and conservation by-laws
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    Challenges facing a community structure to implement CBNRM in the Eastern Cape, South Africa
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    Can we be engineers of property rights to natural resources? Some evidence of difficulties from the rural areas of Zimbabwe
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    The organizational structures for community-based natural resources management in southern Africa
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    Participatory natural resource management in the communal lands of Zimbabwe: What role for customary law?
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    Evolving institutional framework for community-based natural resource management in Mozambique: A case study from the Choa Highlands
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    Book reviews
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Full Text

African Studies Quarterly

Volume 5, Issue 3
Fall 2001

Special Issue

Natural Resources Management in Southern Africa

Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida

ISSN: 2152-2448

African Studies Quarterly

Editorial Staff

Christine Apodaca
James Barham
Elizabeth Beaver
Lin Cassidy
Michael Chege
Kevin Fridy
Corinna Greene
Parakh Hoon
Todd Leedy
Andy Lepp
Steve Marr
David Ngwenyama
Kharyssa Rhodes
Cheryl White

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for
individuals to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Table of Contents

Transforming Traditional Institutions for Sustainable Natural Resource Management:
History, Narratives and Evidence from Zimbabwe's Communal Areas
Dale Dore (1-18)

Participation and Stakeholder Dynamics in the Water Reform Process in Zimbabwe: The
Case of the Mazoe Pilot Catchment Board
Bevlyne Sithole (19-40)

Challenges Facing a Community Structure to Implement CBNRM in the Eastern Cape, South
Michelle Cocks, Anthony Dold and Isla Grundy (41-56)

Can We Be Engineers of Property Rights to Natural Resources?: Some Evidence of
Difficulties from the Rural Areas of Zimbabwe
Marty Luckert (57-71)

The Organizational Structures for Community-Based Natural Resources Management in
Southern Africa
Bruce Campbell and Sheona Shackleton (73-86)

Participatory Natural Resource Management in the Communal Lands of Zimbabwe: What
Role for Customary Law?
Jennifer Mohamed-Katerere (87-114)

Evolving Institutional Framework for Community-Based Natural Resources Management in
Mozambique: A Case Study from the Choa Highlands
Pekka Virtanen (115-138)

Allocation of Governmental Authority and Responsibility in Tiered Governance Regimes:
The Case ofthe Chivi Rural District Council Landuse Planning and Conservation By-Laws
Alois Mandondo (139-154)

Book Reviews

Election Observation and Democratization in Africa.
Jon Abbink and Gerti Hesseling (eds.). New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. Pp. 324.
Seyoum Hameso (155-160)

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

The State against the Peasantry: Rural Struggles in Colonial and Postcolonial Mozambique.
Merle L. Bowen. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. Pp. 320.
Ian Taylor (160-161)

Political Discourses in African Thought: 1860 to the Present.
Pieter Boele van Hensbroek, Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1999. Pp238.
Raphael Chijioke Njoku (161-164)

Africa's Thirty Years' War: Libya, Chad and the Sudan 1963-1993.
J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins. Boulder: Westview Press, 1999. Pp. 300.
Dalvan M. Coger (164-166)

Disciplining Democracy: Development Discourse and Good Governance in Africa.
Rita Abrahamsen. London: Zed Books, 2000. Pp. 168.
Muyiwa Falaiye and Eric Usifoh (167-168)

Trade Unions and Democratization in South Africa, 1985-1997..
Glen Adler & Eddie Webster (eds.). New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. Pp. 238.
Gorm Gunnarsen (168-170)

Green Land, Brown Land, Black Land: An Environmental History of Africa 1800-1900.
James C. McCann. Portsmouth: Heinemann, 1999. Pp. 224.
Jeremy Rich (170-172)

When Victims Become Killers: Colonialism, Nativism, and the Genocide in Rwanda.
Mahmood Mamdani. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001. Pp. 357.
Vijay Sekhon (172-174)

Kwame Nkrumah: The Father of African Nationalism.
David Birmingham. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1999. Pp. 142.
Jerome Teelucksingh (174-175)

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Transforming Traditional Institutions for Sustainable Natural

Resource Management: History, Narratives and Evidence from

Zimbabwe's Communal Areas


Abstract: A major question that has emerged from the research and discourse on
community-based natural resource management in southern Africa is whether traditional
rules comply with generally accepted principles of common property management. In
other words: do traditional institutions offer a solution for the sustainable management
of natural resources held in common? This paper traces the emergence of traditional
institutions from the pre-colonial times to the present, and draws a comparison with one
fundamental principle of common property management: exclusivity of resource use.
Evidence from Zimbabwe shows that traditional rules governing natural resources
contradict this principle. The study suggests that the gap between traditional institutions
and design principles for sustainable common property resource management can be
bridged by making small continuous institutional changes over an extended period of
time. It also recommends that longitudinal studies based on historical precedent rather
than contemporary narratives and cross-sectional studies are required for informed
policy decision-making in order to transform traditional institutions.


Bromley (1991) has argued that, with the advent of colonialism and markets, "the spread of
private land and the attendant individualisation of village life has undermined traditional
collective management regimes over natural resources."' In this interpretation of history, the
individualization of property led to the breakdown of traditional authority and community
regulation over common resources. As a result, common property resource regimes
degenerated into open access. Some scholars therefore believe that a return to the pre-colonial
situation, when traditional institutions once prevailed, will empower communities to manage
their resources more sustainably. The implicit assumption being that traditional systems of land
tenure were characterized by collective action and common property management regimes.2
The first difficulty with this view is that it differs materially from the literature on the
reinvention of tradition.3 Ranger (1983), for example, maintains that:

Dale Dore is a researcher and director of Shanduko, the Centre for Agrarian and Environmental Research. For the
past few years he has been the advisor to the Research Committee for the Natural Resource Management
Programme's research into community-based natural resource management in the southern African region. His main
interests centre on resource economics, institutional change and governance issues.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

2 I Dore

"The most far-reaching inventions of tradition in colonial Africa took place when the
Europeans believed themselves to be respecting age-old African custom. What were called
customary law, customary land-rights, customary political structure and so on, were in fact all
invented by colonial codification."4
Ranger does not imply that pre-colonial African societies did not have valued customs,
identity and continuity, but that such customs were loosely defined and flexible. His
fundamental point is, therefore, that "once the 'traditions' relating to community identity and
land rights were written down in court records and exposed to the criteria of the invented
customary model, a new unchanging body of tradition had been created."5 In other words,
traditional institutions were not so much destroyed as reinvented.
The second difficulty arises from the presumption that natural resources in pre-colonial
societies in Africa were actually "managed." The economics of property rights tells us that
communities would have had little incentive to create rules governing the use of resources, first,
if there was a relative abundance of that resource where supply is perfectly elastic and,
second, if the costs of enforcing exclusive use exceeded the benefits. Given the low population
levels and a relative abundance of natural resources on the southern Africa plateau during the
nineteenth century, there does not appear to be a justification for resource conservation and the
establishment of a common property management regime. The third difficulty is that the tenets
of customary land tenure and the use of natural resources in the communal areas do not seem to
accord, even closely, with contemporary principles of common property resource management
articulated by scholars such as Bromley (1991), Ostrom (1993) and Murphree (1991).
This paper sets out initially to verify whether or not colonialism destroyed traditional
common property management institutions by examining the traditional customs and practices
of indigenous communities. It then compares traditional practice with one fundamental
contemporary principle of resource management that characterises a common property regime:
exclusivity. In doing so, the paper tries to establish whether traditional institutions under
conditions of unprecedented increases in human and livestock populations offer a solution for
the sustainable management of natural resources held in common and, if not, how they could
be modified so that they can.
My inquiry begins, in Section 2, with an historical exposition of customary natural resource
use from pre-colonial times (1840-1890), through the colonial period when native reserves were
created, to the emergence of post-Independence notions of traditional natural resource
management. This process of institutional change is considered in the context of a burgeoning
human and livestock population in the communal areas. Section 3 examines the decline in the
conservative conservation narrative and the emergence of a community conservation narrative,
focusing primarily on the development of property rights theory and the principles for
designing common property regimes. I then compare the common property rights principle of
exclusivity with traditional natural resource use practices. This difference is illustrated in
Section 4 with evidence of traditional access and harvesting practices of natural resources in the
communal areas. The differences between principle and practice also presupposes that
improvements can be made in the way natural resources have been managed in communal
areas under customary law, and equally, that there are a set of institutional arrangements
towards which change should be directed. Section 5 takes up this discussion and suggests new

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Transforming Traditional Institutions for Sustainable Resource Management I 3

directions for research. Concluding remarks are made in the final section about the need for
historical precedence and social context in our search for lasting solutions to the issues of
poverty and resource depletion that beset the communal areas of Zimbabwe and other countries
in southern Africa.


Concepts such as "tradition" and "community" have been widely criticized because they
are loosely used to carry complex associations of wisdom, continuity, propinquity that give
them resonance, resilience and power.6 Nonetheless, they remain useful concepts if their context
and meaning remain clear. Hughes (1972), for example, explains:
"Just as the present colourful 'traditional' Swazi dress is known to have come in at the turn
of the 20th century, so many features of the social and political organizations may well have
acquired their present form at a relatively recent date. Nonetheless, they are specifically Swazi
and traditional now."
It is in this sense, therefore, that the word "tradition" is used here to distinguish between
what people today consider to be their own established practices and rules governing access to
land and natural resources, as opposed to outside interventions which propose new rules and
regulations to which people are unaccustomed.7


Despite the difficulties presented when reconstructing pre-colonial systems of landholding
and resource use, anthropologists and historians have combed through early documents and
writings to build a reasonable understanding of life during the pre-colonial years in central and
southern Africa.8 For the purposes of this article, I examine briefly the pre-colonial period
between 1840 and 1890, just after the settlement of the Ndebele in southwest Zimbabwe at
Gabulawayo in 1840, and just before the colonization of the central plateau by the British South
Africa Company's pioneer column in 1890.
Early accounts of pre-colonial life in Zimbabwe indicate that the Ndebele and Gaza off-
shoots of the warrior Zulu nation raided and extracted tribute from surrounding Shona
villages for grain, cattle and slaves. As the Shona lived in dread of these raiders, they built their
towns on hill-tops in places that were easy to defend.9 Scoones and Wilson (1989) maintain that
the dominant farming system of the southern Shona was based on intensive, continuous
farming of vlei areas (wetlands), the major portions of which were held by petty warlord chiefs,
and largely worked by commoners as tribute in exchange for food and wives. In areas beyond
the beyond the reach of Ndebele influence, however, the most common form of Shona
settlement was based on shifting rather than continuous cultivation:
According to traditional agricultural methods the inhabitants start to cultivate a certain
selected piece of virgin land, using the same fields for two or three years, when they extend
their reclamation for another few years until most suitable land in the vicinity is exhausted.
Then the whole village is shifted to another area. The result has been that villages have been
moved every six to eight years or so, mainly depending upon the amount of arable land

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

4 I Dore

available within easy reach. This process met with little difficulty in the past as land was ample
and dwellings easily built.1
By all accounts, the Shona had by 1850 built up large herds of cattle. However, Beach (1984)
describes the documentary evidence on cattle ownership and herding only as "tantalisingly
vague." Descriptions by Holleman (1952) of Shona rules governing the pasturing of cattle are
also vague and flexible:
"A distinction was made between grazing area (ufuro) and ploughing area (urime), in that
cattle had to be grazed at a safe distance from the cultivation area. But as there was little or no
control over the movements of villages in search of suitable arable land, cattle were in practice
allowed to graze wherever there happened to be food for them, as long as they did not trespass
upon fields under cultivation."11
The main differences between the Shona and Ndebele settlements, lay in the amabutho, the
so-called regiments that were composed of young Ndebele men called together into a
residential unit when the king thought fit.12 Mathers (1891) offered the following description of
their settlements:
"These kraals are posted near water, and when they have destroyed the wood for miles
around, and when there is not sufficient water or pasture for cattle as it increases by pillage or
breeding, then the kraal is burnt and the regiment builds another in a fresh bit of country. A
large kraal or town can occupy a place for about ten years. This will account for Inyati having
removed from the place marked as such on the older maps. Enhlangeni is the name of the place,
and the Inyati regimental kraal is now 50 miles south-east of that; while Gabulawayo is 18 miles
north of the position it occupied ten years ago."13
While the evidence is fragmentary, it seems probable that although much time was spent
herding cattle, especially amongst the Ndebele that cattle were pastured around settlements:
the basic rule being that cattle should not stray into cultivated fields that had not yet been


Following the occupation of the Pioneer Column and the subjugation of the Matabele and
Mashona chiefs in the 1890s, the British South Africa Company had by 1902 set aside native
reserves solely for occupation by Africans under traditional tribal ways. Southern Rhodesia was
subsequently divided racially into a patchwork of white commercial areas in the more
productive areas and native reserves on poorer soils: a pattern of settlement that remains
largely intact today. 14
With colonialism came dramatic changes for the indigenous people. First, there was a
boom in agriculture in the native reserves. Following the outbreak of rinderpest in 1896 a
disease that decimated cattle throughout the country cattle numbers grew from 55,000 in 1900
to nearly a million by 1923. With the introduction of the plough, more extensive areas could be
cultivated. The indigenous population had grown from an estimated 400,000 in 1900 to about
940,000 by 1926.15 As pressure began to be felt within the reserves and the first signs of
environmental degradation became evident, two narratives were being created: the colonial
administration's conservative conservation narrative and the African nationalist narrative.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Transforming Traditional Institutions for Sustainable Resource Management I 5

The colonial conservation narrative usually pointed to the inefficient and wasteful methods
of traditional cultivation: breaking up and "scratching" of the soil, broadcasting seed over an
extensive area without the use of fertilisers, and lack of crop rotation or conservation contours.
The cultivation of small and scattered patches of land required excessive labor to keep cattle out
of crops. It also meant that while pasture around cultivated fields went to waste, areas set aside
for grazing were denuded.16 The colonial administration's response was to introduce the
concept of "centralized villages" in an attempt to improve African agricultural productivity by
the use of organic fertilizer (manure) and by confining crop cultivation to large carefully
selected and consolidated blocks of arable land, ringed by homesteads.17 Beyond these
residential "lines" lay undefined woodland and grassland, the so-called "grazing areas."
In spite of these efforts, the 1938 Natural Resources Commission reported that the "result
of overstocking in the Reserves and other areas has not only been a loss of stock but also a great
deterioration of the grazing ground, much of which has already been brought to a state where
rehabilitation appears impossible."18 Its recommendations, embodied in the Natural Resources
Act of 1941, paved the way for more coercive conservation methods, permitting the authorities
to carry out soil protection control and compulsory destocking to protect the environment. Still,
by 1944, the Godlonton Commission estimated that 24 reserves were more than 5%
overpopulated; 19 were 50 to 100% overpopulated; and 19 were overpopulated by 100% or
more. The administration became convinced that only a major sustained effort to improve
African husbandry practices could avert rural poverty and further ecological decline. The
prevailing mood within the ranks of the government called for a more disciplinarian approach
to conservation. This new determination found its expression in the Native Land Husbandry
Act of 1951, which was designed, firstly, to ensure that good farming methods were practiced in
the reserves and secondly, to modify the land tenure system by giving individual title to
peasant farmers.
African nationalists saw the situation quite differently. Inefficient land use and communal
tenure were not the sources of declining living standards or environmental degradation, but
rather symptoms of "land hunger." The nationalists argued that growing rural populations and
livestock were hemmed in by the failure of the colonial government to allocate them more land,
land from which they had been dispossessed and to which they had a right. According to one
African nationalist's submission to a Royal Commission: "The problem of the African, the cause
being this story of the people's agony, is landlessness."19 As the "winds of change" gathered
momentum during the 1950s, the nationalists' bid for independence increasingly focused on the
administration's harsh and deeply unpopular measures implemented under the Land
Husbandry Act. The Southern Rhodesian government relented first, by abandoning the Land
Husbandry Act in 1961 and second, by allocating additional land for peasant agriculture from
29 million acres in 1930 to 54 million acres by 1969. Although the amount of land available for
subsistence agriculture nearly doubled during this period, the African population had more
than tripled, from 1.4 million in 1930 to almost five million in 1969.
The recommendations of the Phillips's Report of 1962, which favored a more flexible
approach permitting tribal authorities to find their own local balance between arable and
grazing land, were incorporated in the Tribal Trust Land Act of 1967.20 In particular, this Act
restored chiefs' authority to allocate land previously denied them under the Land Husbandry

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

6 I Dore

Act. Achieving a "balance" would prove well nigh impossible under the prevailing pressures
on land. By allowing cultivation in areas previously designated for grazing only, it created a
situation in which the burgeoning population and their livestock had to compete for marginal
and limited land resources. As the population grew, so did the need for arable land, which
meant carving further into the already dwindling feed resources for livestock. As more land
was brought under the plough, and as the demand for additional draught power rose, an ever
increasing number of livestock had to survive on less and less grazing land. Eventually,
overstocking was considered characteristic of most communal areas and the single most
important factor contributing to their environmental degradation.21
With the restoration of chiefly powers, the colonial era drew to a close. The tenets of
customary land law remained intact although reinterpreted as the "right of avail," that is:
"The right held by the community as a whole, but in which every member of that
community automatically participates. From this participation flow the rights to make what the
group considers reasonable use of the natural resources available to that community, including
The rights flowing from this "right of avail" included the right of accommodation (a place
to live and an area to plough), the right to pasture, and the right to claim a "fair share" to
natural resources: water, clay, minerals, wildlife and fish, forest products, timber and firewood,
etc. From the right to natural resources flow other rights: the right of way (to move stock to and
from pastures and water) and the right to stover (to graze after fields have been harvested).
These rights, however, were only extended to a "reasonable" or "fair" share of natural resources
for subsistence purposes only.


It is one of the ironies of Zimbabwean history that the Native Reserves and other
institutions created by the colonial administration and virulently attacked by its most ardent
critics were largely preserved by the nationalist forces that came to power in 1980.23 The Tribal
Trust Land Act survived largely intact after Independence, resurfacing as the Communal Areas
Act of 1982. In keeping with its nationalist and socialist ideological roots, the new government
saw the communal areas as the arena for collective action and the embodiment of a uniquely
African socialism. Except for the provision that newly elected district councils would become
the land allocating authority in place of the chiefs, who were considered collaborators with the
former white minority government, the Communal Areas Act of 1982 was a virtual replica of
the Tribal Trust Land Act passed by the Smith government in 1967.24 Even so, the notion of
customary law held firm. In terms of section 8(1), the new Act specifies that the district council,
when granting consent to occupy communal land, shall "have regard to customary law relating
to the allocation, occupation and use of land." The passing of this regurgitated piece of
legislation therefore saw the seamless passage of customary tenure from the old colonial order
into a new nationalist interpretation of tradition.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Transforming Traditional Institutions for Sustainable Resource Management I 7


To what extent, therefore, have traditional institutions remained intact or been reinvented?
To start with, it would seem that Ranger's depiction of customary tenure as a colonial construct
is overdrawn. Rather, as he himself put it later, customary law does change within the
dynamics of a rural civil society by adapting "to the new realities of the colonial and post-
colonial economy, but all within the rhetoric of changelessness."25 One of these "new realities"
was the resolve of the Rhodesians to improve African agricultural methods by modifying
settlement patterns and tenure. Another was the sheer pressure of population on the land. As
the population grew, it became increasingly difficult to maintain a culture of shifting
cultivation. This land scarcity, and the colonial government's centralization programme,
brought about a more settled lifestyle, based on continuous cultivation and, hence, increased
investment in land improvements, such as manuring and the use of inorganic fertilizer and
hybrid seed. This intensification lead, not only to what the Rukuni Report referred to as
"traditional freehold," but also limitations on the right to stover, which farmers gathered to feed
their own livestock in winter.26 With the relentless pressure of population, people fell back on
the "rhetoric of changelessness." Thousands of landless families, and those whose soils had
been exhausted, migrated from overcrowded communal areas and settled in the less congested
northern communal areas in a large swathe that ran from Gokwe, through the mid-Zambezi
Valley, to Rushinga.27
While these two processes agricultural intensification and rural migration incorporated
new rules into the "tradition" of governing access to arable land, the right of avail to common
resources remained part of the unchanging tradition within the customary tenure system.


Romantic European imaginings of African life had their roots in nineteenth century
explorers and missionaries such as Stanley, Livingstone, Burton, Moffat, and Courtney Selous.
This notion of Africa was poignantly captured in the title of Mathers' book, Zambesia: England's
el Dorado in Africa, published in 1891. With colonization, the charms of Africa were recounted by
settlers and today still resonate in popular novels/films such as I Dreamed of Africa and Out of
This picture of tranquility was soon shattered by the clamor for African independence from
which an alternative image emerged, that of a suppressed people throwing off the shackles of
imperialism and colonialism: a people searching for the roots of their own identity, history and
culture. It is from these nationalist stirring that the concept of collective action and the role of
the "community" took root within development and environmental circles in the 1960s. The
following decades saw a repudiation of the conservative narrative by discrediting Western
concepts of property rights, scientific knowledge and development.28 In its place, a new
narrative of community conservation was created.29 Here, notions of ancient tribal wisdom,
harmony with nature, ecological knowledge and a pre-colonial communal existence based on
subsistence and equity held sway. Scott (1981), for example, spoke of the "moral economy" and
in Zimbabwe, Moyana (1984) proclaimed that the egalitarian principles that governed the pre-

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colonial distribution of land ensured peaceful operations of the customary land tenure system.
Cross (writing in South Africa) averred that the "single basic principle underlying the
indigenous land systems is the commitment to the interests of society, amounting to a deep
reverence for the social good."30 To use one more example, Folke and Berkes claimed that
indigenous knowledge differs from scientific knowledge in being "moral, ethically-based,
spiritual, intuitive, and holistic."31 For them, traditional ecological knowledge and management
systems developed by trial and error through millennia and handed down through
generations by cultural transmission enabled many societies to use their resources in a way
that maintained the integrity of their local ecosystems.
But a stolid piece of work and the quintessential expression of the conservative narrative,
Hardin's classic paper The Tragedy of the Commons (1968), stood in the way of the full blossoming
of the community narrative. His main argument, based on cattle grazing on common pasture,
was that individuals have a strong incentive to continually add more cattle to the commons
because they receive a benefit at no additional cost. As a result, he hypothesized, the commons
would eventually be destroyed. The attacks on this model were rooted in the belief that it is
possible to prevent the "tragedy of the commons" by designing institutions to manage natural
resources, rather than changing the tenure system itself.32 This challenge to Hardin has spawned
a vast literature, including the theory and principles of common property regimes. While
Bromley articulated the differences between common property regimes and open access,
Ostrom collated and elaborated on these principles in her paper, The Rudiments of a Theory on the
Origins, Survival, and Performance of Common-property Institutions. Consensus grew that the one
fundamental principle that differentiates common property regimes from open access was
exclusivity, both in terms of boundaries and ownership. Bromley captures this principle most
"In one important sense, then, common property has something very much in common
with private property-exclusion of non-owners. ... The property-owning groups vary in
nature, size, and internal structure across a broad spectrum, but they are social units with
definite membership and boundaries."33
Given that Bromley considered traditional land tenure systems to be common property
regimes, and that such regimes were characterized by exclusivity of resource use, the
expectation was that the principle of exclusivity would be inherent in traditional systems of
natural resource management.


It soon became clear that these design principles sat uncomfortably with the customary law
of natural resource use. Zimbabwean scholars therefore sought to delve deeper into the
mechanisms of traditional rules governing natural resource use in order to resolve this
contradiction and vindicate the community conservation narrative.
Guveya and Chikandi (1996) selected two communal areas in Zimbabwe Svosve in a
region of high agricultural potential and Mhondoro-Ngezi in an area of low potential in order
to assess whether well-defined rules guided grazing resource utilization. Using a stratified
random sample for their household survey, together with focus groups, their research showed

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Transforming Traditional Institutions for Sustainable Resource Management I 9

that local households were allowed to graze any number of cattle wherever they pleased. The
only restriction (rule) was to ensure that their animals did not destroy other people's crops.
After harvest the chief (in consultation with the headmen) declared when farmers could graze
their cattle on arable land. Even when people were able to identify grazing areas that fell under
the jurisdiction of different traditional leaders, they felt no obligation to respect these
This traditional right of access to the commons was also exercised towards a formal grazing
scheme that had been established by three village development committees. Farmers in the
surrounding areas cut fences and drove their livestock into the paddocks to be grazed and
watered. They claimed to be exercising their traditional right to use this area, arguing that "no-
one owns grazing as it belongs to everyone." Even during periods of critical forage shortages,
this right prevailed. The authors therefore concluded that:
"An analysis of the rules governing grazing resource use show that in both Svosve and
Mhondoro-Ngesi communal areas, there are no boundary rules and restriction rules on the use
of natural grazing. This means access to grazing resources is open access. Thus in these
communities use of grazing resources cannot be restricted to levels that allow for sustainable
In the case study of Mzola state forest, the Gwaai Working Group (1997) investigated the
problem of moving cattle from the overstocked Dandara communal area into the underutilized
state forest area, which lay in a restricted foot and mouth disease zone. Seeking a solution to
this problem, the research team decided to explore the rules and practices of two communities
(Bimba I and II) that control the use of state and communal natural resources. They found that:

Cattle are allowed to roam freely during the dry season;

Only cattle belonging to members of the village are allowed to graze close to cropland in
the wet season;

Stover left in the field (after it has been collected by the plotholder) may be freely
accessed for grazing;

There are specially demarcated areas within one village where grazing is closed between
November and April (when resources elsewhere are plentiful) to build up reserves
during the dry season.

In another study of five wards in the Zambezi Valley, Lynam et al. (1997) tried to
determine how households and communities use natural resources to satisfy their needs by
emphasizing the spatial pattern of resource use. The selection of study areas was representative
of high and low agricultural potential as well as high and low population densities. With the
help of a global positioning system and aerial photography, a team of enumerators estimated
the pattern and intensity of natural resource use from a stratified sample of twenty-four
randomly selected households at each site. This was followed by intensive discussions with
groups of local "experts." The results of the study showed that households did not observe

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village or ward boundaries in their resource use or harvesting activities. On average, twenty
percent of households used resources outside their ward boundaries, and eighty-six percent of
households used resources outside their village boundaries. They observed that where resource
constraints were experienced within a village's own boundaries, this was overcome by a
"spillover" use of the resources in neighboring wards. While the authors acknowledge that
access to and use of natural resources are a result of complex processes that are, as yet, poorly
understood, they nonetheless conclude that "The boundaries of production units, as well as the
controls being applied to the use of resources within these areas, require much clearer definition
if resource use is to be sustainable."
In a similar study, Mandondo (2001) assessed the clarity of resource use boundaries and
resource use access rights in five contiguous villages in Nyaropa Ward, Nyanga (a district lying
along Zimbabwe's eastern border with Mozambique). His objective was to investigate how
resource use related to village boundaries and to assess the institutional arrangements
governing the use of natural resources between villages. A participatory rural appraisal (PRA)
mapping exercise to establish the location of natural resources in relation to village
boundaries was followed up by a formal questionnaire survey to ascertain resource use
patterns. Using a PRA matrix ranking technique, Mandondo compared people's access to a
limited number of natural resources (fuelwood, timber, mushrooms and wild fruit) both within
and across village boundaries to determine the degree to which these resources are subject to
rules of exclusion. His results show that although villagers depended primarily on resources
from their own villages, many of them also acquired resources from other villages, especially
wild fruits. In general, the lighter products, such as mushrooms and wild fruits, were collected
from adjoining villages, whereas the heavier products, such as fuelwood and timber, were more
likely to be collected from within the village. The reasons had less to do with the ownership or
exclusivity of resources, and more to do with practical considerations, such as the availability of
the resource, ease of access, the proximity of the resource, and the possibility of accomplishing
other tasks when collecting the resource.


As their introduction makes clear, Guveya and Chikandi share in Bromley's belief that
traditional authorities' ability to manage common properties was seriously eroded by the
colonial administration, thus removing the conditions for establishing a common property
rights regime. However, tracing the rules governing use of grazing and other natural resources
from pre-colonial times to the present day reveals that the main threads of traditional
institutions have remained largely intact. Livestock owners may graze any number of cattle
anywhere (so long as they are kept safely away from the cropping areas) and people may collect
natural resources from the most convenient locations subject to certain rules (such as not
cutting down big or fruit-bearing trees or harvesting from sacred sites). So traditional access to
resources appears deeply etched into African culture. Both Mandondo and Lynam et al. have
commented on the general acceptance of the principle that people may collect resources within
and across village or ward boundaries, as well as the apparent lack of acrimony when people
exercise this right.

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Transforming Traditional Institutions for Sustainable Resource Management I 11

This type of resource use differs significantly from the principle of exclusivity that
characterises common property regimes that Mandondo suggests the general incongruities
between administrative units and resource use contradicts the logic of having villages exercise
exclusive legal control over resources. Instead of distinct boundaries, he argues that it is
necessary to accept "soft and diffuse" boundaries, characterized by informal resource sharing,
as the starting point for community-based natural resource management. Guveya and Chikandi
and Lynam et al., on the other hand, recognize that traditional institutions of natural resource
use under the pressure of growing human and livestock population will not be sustainable.
It was for this reason that the 1994 Land Tenure Commission recommended a programme in
accordance with principle of exclusivity to survey the communal areas, starting with the
adjudication, mapping and registration of traditional villages in order to formalise boundaries
and to "formalise traditional tenure and all subsequent transactions performed under
traditional tenure."35
These opposing positions on the principle of exclusivity are not irreconcilable. Strong
support for evolutionary institutional development and change can be drawn from the existing
literature. Central to the Boserup's (1965) now classic proposition, for example, is the idea that
when land scarcities develop as a result of population pressure, indigenous land tenure
arrangements evolve towards more individualized land rights in response to factor price
changes. This means the underlying demographic and economic processes that induce
agricultural intensification and technical change are those which simultaneously generate a
demand for socially sanctioned institutional change in the tenure system. Whereas initially
households are allowed only to continuously cultivate land, they are later able to bequeath and
sell it. This not only creates greater security of tenure, thereby providing incentives to make
farm investments, but it supposedly facilitates the commercialization of agriculture as allocative
efficiencies begin to emerge with a land market. Eventually, this evolutionary process of
institutional development produces a unified system of land documentation and registration,
backed up by the enforcement of property rights.36
We also learn from North (1990) that because rules are based on culture they change only
incrementally and marginally, persisting along a path of institutional change over time. The
challenge facing policy makers in Zimbabwe and other southern African countries is how to
modify these deeply ingrained traditional rules and guide them along a path of evolutionary
institutional change towards a system of more sustainable natural resource management. One
promising avenue might be to intervene initially only in those areas where population pressure,
resource scarcity and agro-economic conditions have already set in motion a process of
agricultural intensification (ie. where the community is primed for institutional change). Using
"light touch" facilitation techniques, communities may be encouraged to modify their rules in
order to provide incentives for adopting patterns of behavior that lead to more sustainable
resource use. In Zimbabwe, there is already evidence that resource scarcity has set in motion a
process of institutional change. Arable land in communal areas are being continuously
cultivated and the construction of permanent homesteads has imperceptibly changed the
traditional tenurial concept of "ownership."37 Another example is the finding by the Gwaai
Working Group (1997) that, as grazing resources became scarce, elaborate local rules emerged
to prevent grazing within a certain area during summer in order to build up reserve pastures

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for the dry winter season. These examples suggest that the pace of institutional change may be
hastened if it can be ascertained when a community is ready to make the necessary changes.
Two lines of research therefore present themselves. The first is to undertake longitudinal
retrace studies to investigate and understand the institutional evolution of natural resource
management systems. Only when we are armed with an adequate institutional map will it be
possible to advise policy makers on the most effective strategies for assessing when and where
interventions would be most appropriate. The second line of research is to identify those
marginal changes in rules which modify behavior towards more sustainable resource
management outcomes. Currently, however, we have little information on the effects of specific
attributes of tenure which would allow researchers to predict how changes in tenures can
modify management incentives and influence behavior that promotes sustainable resource use.
A promising way forward is to view characteristics of tenures as representing variables within a
property rights framework, allowing researchers to compare and contrast important features of
various property right structures in systematic ways.38 This approach also presumes the need
for carefully chosen cross-sectional studies to find variation in key property rights
characteristics that provide insights into the representativeness of case studies (Luckert
For those practitioners and organizations that facilitate the emergence of new institutions,
Putnam (1993) maintains that one of the most important lessons from his own work was the
need for patience. Institutional change requires a long term commitment by governments,
donors and non-government organizations. Another important lesson from Putnam is that the
most successful local organizations represent indigenous, participatory initiatives in relatively
cohesive local communities. With these lessons in mind, some measure of success has been
achieved in developing institutions for community wildlife enterprises in various southern
African countries. In particular, non-government organizations working in Namibia have
provided "light touch" facilitation over many years that involves working directly with
communities, paying regular field visits, training and capacity building, and monitoring the
internal dynamics of power shifts within the community. Equally important, these facilitators
have been able to provide a communication bridge between government policy makers and
donors, on the one hand, and local level organizations and communities, on the other. As a
result, legislation and policy governing community-based wildlife conservancy management
have been shaped in accordance with design principles that characterize common property
regimes. Conservancies, for example, can only be registered after the communal area residents
themselves define the conservancy boundaries and membership. Although this legal
requirement delayed the establishment of many conservancies, external mediators facilitated
negotiations between the various interest groups who grappled with issues, made compromises
and eventually reached a settlement based on a workable institutional framework for common
property resource management.39


By tracing the rules governing the use of natural resources (especially grazing) this paper
has shown, first, that traditional institutions were not destroyed by colonialism or the post-

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Transforming Traditional Institutions for Sustainable Resource Management I 13

colonial state, but that they have survived largely intact. Rules have only been reinvented in the
sense that the pressure of population has resulted in resource scarcity that has modified
traditional institutions. Secondly, the paper has shown that traditional rules do not comply with
the principle of exclusivity of common property regimes and, hence, do not in themselves offer
a lasting solution to sustainable resource use. This is especially true under conditions of
growing human and livestock densities. But more than this, the paper has tried to show that
history matters. Since, in keeping with North (1990), institutions are "path dependent" -
evolving by continual marginal adjustments, building upon the preceding institutional
arrangements I have proposed that traditional institutions, as they are practiced today, are the
logical starting point from which rules could be modified step-by-step and steered towards
greater conformity with the principles of common property regimes. It is this process by which
traditional institutions could be transformed to ensure greater sustainability in natural resource
Fortmann (1989), in her analysis of agricultural institutions in Botswana, criticized
approaches to resource management as being ahistorical and suggests that explanations and
interpretations of existing patterns of resource management can only be understood from a
historical context.40 All too often, one finds African research reflecting the narratives of
European misconceptions of pre-colonial African society, colonialism and the post-Independent
state. Invariably, these lead to one-size-fits-all policy prescriptions, the most popular at the
moment being "co-management" combining fragile communities with over-extended,
ineffectual and aid-dependent government departments. When policy neglects history, culture
and social context, huge amounts of effort and funding can be wasted on misconceived
initiatives, resulting in lost opportunities, as well as frustration and fatigue. Rather, research
should be founded on a new self-confidence among African scholars, fashioned by research
competence and intellectual integrity that draws on historical precedence to bring fresh
perspectives on natural resource management into the realm of public policy debate.


1. Bromley 1991, 136.
2. Sithole 1997.
3. Ranger 1983 and 1993, and Cheater 1990.
4. Ranger 1983, 250.
5. Ibid, 251.
6. Adams and Hulme 2001.
7. Traditional institutions are, in other words, informal constraints that are part of a
people's heritage that we call culture and therefore includes values, norms, taboos and
so on (North 1990).
8. For examples, see, Holleman 1952, Beach 1980, Ranger 1983, Cheater, 1990.
9. Mathers 1891.
10. Holleman 1952, 4.
11. Ibid, 3.
12. Beach 1984.

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13. Mathers 1891,194.
14. Floyd 1972.
15. Yudelman 1964.
16. Holleman 1952 and Alvord 1958.
17. Holleman 1964, Zinyama and Whitlow 1986.
18. Quoted in Moyana 1984, 90.
19. Yudelman 1964, 83.
20. The full title of the Phillips Report was the Development of the Economic Resources of
Southern Rhodesia with Particular Reference to the Role of African Agriculture.
21. Kay 1975.
22. Hughes 1974, 42.
23. See Arrighi 1970, Palmer and Parsons 1977, Cliffe 1986.
24. Dor6 1993.
25. Ranger 1993, 102.
26. Zimbabwe 1994
27. Zinyama and Whitlow 1986
28. See Bromley and Cernea 1989, Folke and Berkes 1995.
29. Hulme and Adams 2001.
30. Cross 1988, 367.
31. Folke and Berkes 1995, 125.
32. See Bromley 1991, Ostrom 1993, Hanna 1995, Rihoy 1995.
33. Bromley 1991, 25-26.
34. Guveya and Chikandi 1996,103.
35. Land Tenure Commission 1994, 1-533.
36. See Noronha 1989, McNicoll 1990, Feder and Feeny 1991, Dor6 1994.
37. Zimbabwe 1994.
38. Luckert and Kundhlande 1997.
39. Shackleton and Campbell 2000, Jones and Murphree 2001.
40. Sithole 1997.


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Alvord, E.D. Development of Native Agriculture and Land Tenure in Southern Rhodesia.
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Beach, D.N. Zimbabwe Before 1900. Gweru: Mambo Press, 1984.

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Bromley, D.W and M.M. Cernea. The Management of Common Property Natural Resources.
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Cross, C.R. "Informal Freehold and the Free Market," in C.R. Cross and R.J. Haines, eds.
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Folke, C. and F. Berkes. "Mechanisms that Link Property Right to Ecological Systems," in
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Hanna, S. "Efficiencies of User Participation in Natural Resource Management," in Hanna, S.
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Kay, G. "Population Pressures and Development Prospects in Zimbabwe." Rhodesia Science
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Management?: Towards Empirically Tested Theory. Paper presented at Commonwealth
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Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article:
Dore, Dale. "Transforming Traditional Institutions for Sustainable Natural Resource
Management: History, Narratives and Evidence from Zimbabwe's Communal Areas." African
Studies Quarterly 5, no.3: online URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v5/v5i3al.htm

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Participation and Stakeholder Dynamics in the Water Reform

Process in Zimbabwe: The Case of the Mazoe Pilot Catchment



Abstract:' One aspect of water reform in Zimbabwe is increased stakeholder
participation in water management through catchment boards. This paper uses discourse
analysis to explore relationships among different stakeholders in consultative meetings
facilitated to achieve wider participation among all stakeholders. Consultation over the
water allocation system provides a case for the analysis of interfaces where multiple
stakeholders meet and interact. Though inclusive of a wide range of stakeholders,
catchment boards are far from being democratic organizations. Water democracy without
water development is difficult to achieve, while water democracy that ignores the
present dualism in access to resources perpetuates differentials in participation by all

In the proposed Zimbabwe Water Act to replace the Water Act of 1976, increased
stakeholder participation in management through catchment boards is an important facet of the
new law. Idealized notions of participation have caused a crisis of expectations between
stakeholders at all levels.2 Case material shows that the reluctance of state to relinquish control
is widespread. For example, the delays in passing draft legislation in Thailand, the reluctance to
use existing authority to empower indigenous forest protection committees in India, the
ineffectiveness of most measures that favour indigenous groups in South America, and the
devolution of authority to local government officials rather than to user communities in
Zimbabwe.3 Increasingly, the advocates of inclusive decision making have began to raise
questions about its limits. The level of participation moves from non-participation through
degrees to tokenism to full involvement.4 However, populist development literature suggests
that there are cases where participation in decision-making has meant more actors are moving
from being users choosers of services to become actors agents in broader processes of
governance.5 However, this reversal of roles is only possible if all stakeholders are able to
negotiate and bargain fairly within the catchment boards.
Increased stakeholder involvement means creating partnerships through which goals can
be pursued. However, convergent interests of various stakeholders do not always mean

Bevlyne Sithole is a lecturer in the Centre for Applied Sciences and has worked on various projects focusing on
institutions for natural resources in forestry, and the water sector. Her key focus has been participation, power
relations among actors, differentiation and micro-politics of natural resources use.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

20 I Sithole

identical interests.6 To form effective partnerships, one must know one's partners well.7
According to Uphoff et. al. (1997) the wisest course is to bring divergent views and interests into
the open, where they can be dealt with under the rubric of a united organization. Differences
are then framed by overarching goals on which there is agreement. In most countries there is an
imbalance of power among various stakeholders, with the state often retaining most of the
power.8 According to Bourdieu (1990), bringing together different interests is not sufficient in
itself to promote cooperation. Meaningful participation in the negotiation process is impossible
without some power to influence the results. Marquet (1971) defines power as an ability by one
actor to impose one's views or opinions on others. To mount a credible bid to exercise power,
individuals must combine with others; thus power is accumulated and exercised in the context
of political organization.9 Further, Bratton (1994) notes that power is a scarce resource, which
tends to crystallize within a limited number of organizations. Power is also something that is
possessed, accumulated and imposed upon others.10 Vallereal (1992) also notes that power
always implies struggle, negotiation and compromise. Without power there is no bargaining
position and negotiation becomes a one-sided affair."
Stakeholder participation in water management involves a reweaving of power among
multiple stakeholders who share decision-making power. In this new scheme, old elites must
give up some of their power and recognize the voice of previously marginalized stakeholders.
However, much research demonstrates that this reweaving of power has not occurred.12 Often
the following assumptions are made about multi-stakeholder relationships:

Equitable power sharing exists among the stakeholders

All stakeholders are aware of and want to exercise power

All stakeholders consistently feel the need to participate in decision-making arenas

Despite the stated intensions of social inclusion, it has become clear that many multiple-
stakeholder initiatives do not deal well with the complexity of actor differences.13 Stakeholders
are neither homogenous in composition and concerns, nor are they necessarily harmonious in
their relations. This article examines relationships among stakeholders involved in a
consultative process to decide on the appropriate mechanism for sharing water in one of the
two pilot catchment areas in Zimbabwe; the Mazoe Pilot Catchment.


Following the avid interest by local and international researchers in collaborative
management initiatives like Communal Areas Management Programme for Indigenous
Resources (CAMPFIRE), water reform in Zimbabwe has received much attention. Research has
focused on many aspects of water reform; from institutional and legal aspects to politics and
advocacy for reform.14 There are many more unpublished papers presented at several
workshops that have been held to review the water reform process.15 According to Dougherty
(1997), the Mazoe Pilot Catchment is representative of the seven catchments in Zimbabwe.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Participation and Stakeholder Dynamics in the Water Reform Process in Zimbabwe I 21

Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that some of the issues highlighted in this catchment will
also be faced in other catchments. Dougherty describes the Mazoe Pilot Catchment thus:

It falls within two provinces and requires inter-provincial cooperation. Zimbabwe is
divided into 8 provinces

There is wide range of uses including large-scale and small-scale commercial
agriculture, mining, urban land use and wildlife areas.

Inter-catchment issues take on local and international implications since the Mazoe
eventually flows into Mozambique.

The proposed structure for stakeholder representation in the pilot catchment is shown in Figure
1. At the local level, water user boards have been defined as areas with boundaries similar to
the existing river boards. However, in some cases the boundaries have been defined on other
criteria and therefore do not necessarily fit with the areas under the jurisdiction of the River
Boards. The RB chairperson and deputy sit on the sub-catchment board. There are also two
representatives from each sub-catchment board seated on the pilot Catchment Board.
Dougherty notes that different stakeholders are "well able to work together" though
relationships with a decentralised state structures such as the proposed Zimbabwe National
Water Authority (ZINWA) will provide backstopping support to the proposed catchment

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

22 I Sithole

Figure 1. The Proposed Institutional Structure for the Mazoe Catchment Board



I. 1 i: i li .rrlin lr
. 'l ,-jlr 1l Ilr l lb r -

-- tate e nt of plans

f'r.-.rnti l i i I r i t.:. F' th, deir area and collation of
S ri..rri', ri L .:I.:.r-,Il regional plans and
I|'ri ]L I-,L IY.

2klr.te,' rrlFnhe:l fr'rn
Sr r; -:,tl rIFrnili1r-1 -.il

nrll'rrl l r.

and plans including
water permit approval
orrefusal) and dispute


Source: Doughtery 1997


African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001




Participation and Stakeholder Dynamics in the Water Reform Process in Zimbabwe I 23

In order to understand how the water reform process is unfolding in Zimbabwe, we must
examine the relationships between the state and civil society.17 Until now, the state has been
viewed as all powerful, and in control of formulating and implementing policy. However, as is
the recent case in many African countries, the state is becoming weaker and withdrawing from
local level management. Further more there are increased pressures for the state to engage other
stakeholders in decision-making processes. In Zimbabwe, attempts at democratising
management exist in the wildlife and forestry sector with varying degrees of success. Derman
and Ferguson (1999) examine how water reform has been shaped by wider political and
economic crises facing the country with the result that water has become the focus of wide-
ranging contestations for equitable distribution of resources. The Water Act of 1976 granted
water rights through the Priority Date System. Under this system, rights could be held in
perpetuity. New applicants for water in catchments where there were many rights holders
would therefore have little chance of getting rights. In many catchments rights are largely held
by commercial farmers whose families have held these for many years. Few, if any, communal
farmers held rights to water. The act provided for the formation of River Boards, but
membership to these was limited to water right holders. Since water rights were held largely by
commercial farmers and other commercial concerns (e.g. industry, mines, corporations, urban
areas) the 1976 Act excluded new and emergent commercial users and communal area users.
Therefore, the specific objectives for water reform in Zimbabwe, the promotion of stakeholder
participation in the decision-making processes and the decentralization of water management
institutions to the catchment and sub-catchment levels.
Though examples of democratising management exist in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in the
developing world, different resources seem to require different types of organisational
arrangements for working with multiple-stakeholders. In Zimbabwe, CAMPFIRE worked
through producer communities coordinated by district councils. Forest resources management
occurred through committees under the control of the Forestry Commission that manage non-
timber products from state forests. For water, these institutions have taken the form of
catchment boards. The Royal Dutch Embassy funded consultancy recommended the creation of
a pilot catchment authority to serve as a model for decentralised water management.18 In 1990,
the Mazoe River Board petitioned the government though the Mazoe River Community
Development Group (MRCDG) to be the second pilot catchment authority.19 The MRCDG
group includes many stakeholders and has shown a great willingness to work with communal
farmers. However, Derman and Ferguson (1999) describe the group as class based and
dominated by members with commercial interests. The Water Resource Management Strategy
Group (WRMSG) was asked to assist both pilot catchments and is now assisting all stakeholders
that seek to form catchment board. Until the act is passed, the pilot catchment can only be
involved in planning. As part of this planning process, the catchment board must decide on a
fair and equitable means of distributing water from the catchment. That stakeholders in the
Mazoe catchment petitioned the state to create their board suggests a high level of stakeholder
involvement and interest. Consequently, the Mazoe catchment board provides in interesting
case study for assessing the role of stakeholder involvement in the reform process.
In response to frequent calls for logistical support the board received a small grant from
German Technical Service (GTZ) to conduct 5 sub-catchment level meetings to discuss the

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

24 I Sithole

Fractional Water Allocation System which the Mazoe Pilot Catchment Board wishes to adopt.20
In the proposed system, allocation of water is approved on the basis of the application and only
granted in relation to total available water in the catchment. These sub-catchment meetings
focus on the allocation system and provide a barometer to gauge the level of participation by
stakeholders both in the pilot catchment and in the broader water reform process. However,
events that are described in this paper are highly context dependent and are used only as cases
in which key concerns about participation in multiple stakeholder organisational arrangements
can be addressed.
Bolding et al. (1997) identify decentralisation of water allocation through the involvement
of local water organizations as one of the crucial elements of successful water reform. Agrawal
and Ribot (1999) define decentralisation as any act in which central government formally cedes
powers to stakeholders and lower level institutions. Devolving power to lower level
stakeholders involves creating a realm of decision-making where a variety of lower-level
stakeholders can exercise some autonomy. Agrawal and Ribot suggest that there are three
distinct facets of decentralisation: stakeholders, power, and accountability. Agrawal and Ribot
argue that state without an understanding of the power of various actors, the domain in which
they exercise their power, and to whom they are accountable, it is impossible to learn the extent
of decentralisation. According to Ribot, the frustration with top-down management has led to
the privileging of civil society in decisions formerly reserved for the state. Yet it is becoming
evident that participation by other actors is more than just a privilege, it is a fundamental right
that determines the sustainability of different management options. Ribot also argues that
political decentralisation requires a switch from decentralised administrative despotism to
autonomous forms of locally accountable representative governments. However, Agrawal and
Ribot find that though advocates of decentralisation often justify it on grounds of the increased
participation, efficiency, or equity, most efforts fail to increase the powers of some stakeholders,
particularly local communities. This paper examines the relationships among stakeholders and
the shifts in power, particularly between the state and commercial farmers, commercial farmers
and local communities, and local community relations with the state.


Since 1998, the Centre for Applied Social Sciences at the University of Zimbabwe has
collaborated on a BASIS/CRISP21 funded programme to monitor the water reform process in
Zimbabwe. The study focuses on the Mazoe pilot catchment that extends over an area of 21 000
square kilometres and spans three provinces (Manicaland, Mashonaland East and Mashonaland
Central). This is one of a number of papers focusing on different aspects of the reform process.
Program researchers attend all the meetings held by organizations at different levels of the
catchment. Some of the insights from these meetings inform the discussion and conclusion of
this article.22
The dominant source of data for this article was these consultative meetings. Stakeholder
groups are considered an interface where relationships are negotiated. Umans (1995) defines an
interface as a critical point of intersection or linkage between different social systems or fields of
social order where structural discontinuities based upon difference of normative values and

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Participation and Stakeholder Dynamics in the Water Reform Process in Zimbabwe I 25

social interests are most likely found. Analysts of social interfaces attempt to reveal the dynamic
and emergent nature of these interactions and show how the objectives, perceptions, priorities
and relationships of various actors are influenced as a result of the encounter.23 Typically these
interacting parties are differentiated in terms of relations of power.24 This paper treats the
consultative meetings as interfaces where we can begin to make sense of the relationships
among stakeholders in the Mazoe pilot catchment. Further, Mukamuri (1995) suggests that in
these meetings, one can view dialogue as socially constructed text that results from regular
negotiations and contests. Fortmann (1995) suggests that meetings of this nature are forums for
discursive strategies where stories are an important "oral manifestation of local discourse
seeking to define and claim resources."25 However, the public nature of group meetings may
promote dissident views held by a small group while silencing the majority views.26 In existing
Participatory Rapid Appraisal (PRA) literature, practitioners suggest various methods to
increase group participation. However, if we understand participation at these consultative
meetings as the discursive strategies that Fortmann describes, there is a danger of forestalling
processes of negotiations and bargaining by simply labelling them as conflicts. Some
negotiations are low visibility processes and difficult to identify. There is no attempt in this
paper to expose these processes. Rather, observations are largely confined to group dynamics,
individual posturing and outcomes from the consultative meetings.
The duration of these meetings varied between one and half hours to three hours.
Proceedings were not fully documented and there was no evidence that discussions were
recorded. All meetings were very well attended, suggesting a stakeholder participation of
between 90-100% at some locations. Data was collected from 3 of the 5 planned consultative
meetings. Issues raised in these three meetings are relevant to the whole consultative process
within the pilot catchment and will likely have wider relevance in the general reform process
with Zimbabwe's water sector.


Case Study 1: Nyagui Sub- Catchment Board Meeting (October 6, 1999)

Participants at this meeting were a mixed group of white commercial farmers,
representatives of water boards and catchment boards, district council and government
officials, and representatives of area chiefs. Participation appeared largely skewed towards
commercial farmers and a few government and district council representatives. However, many
commercial farmers left the meetings at teatime. Villagers attended the meeting but their
participation was largely limited to seeking clarification and trying to understand their role in
the meeting. All villagers left at the end of the meeting. In the Nyagui meeting, many villagers
interrupted the meeting near its end because they wanted to adjourn and catch buses to their
home areas.
The main issues for commercial farmers concerned security of tenure for stored water and
how the proposed water allocation system would impact their investment in agriculture. The
official response to this concern was that access to bigger dams would guarantee requested
allocations as well as any surpluses that may exist in the catchment. In the words of one district

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

26 I Sithole

council representative, the issue of security and storage remained fundamental in the discussion
of equity in the new system. As far as he was concerned, "the new and proposed system
changes nothing. Those with dams or money to build dams still have a comparative advantage
over those in communal areas who have no hope in hell of ever building and sustaining one."
Another participant echoed this concern and stated that "we may say we are changing the
system, yet we are bringing it back in another way. This is cosmetic change. Now we say those
with dams must be given surplus water. What has changed then? Where is the change?" Some
villagers wanted to know who would pay for water storage in communal areas or if they would
have rights to use storage in dams on adjacent commercial farms. The answer was that "no one
would build dams except yourselves. Don't wait for the government. They have failed to do this
over many generations and will not start now." This pronunciation seemed to take the wind out
of the whole discussion and raised the concern that perhaps the participation of villagers in
water allocation and management was irrelevant.
The few villagers who actively participated were concerned to differentiate between
different sources of water. While most understood the reasoning behind allocating and
managing water in dams, few understood the reasoning for doing this with small weirs,
boreholes, pools or springs. In the words of the moderator of the meeting, "water is water. No
distinction is made about which source. It is use that will determine whether that water should
be paid for or not." Another issue highlighted by villagers was the issue of "fundamental rights
to subsistence water," especially in periods of shortage when they face unnecessary hardships
while neighbours have water in their dams. Thus "water should be available to all, rich or poor,
but the person who compounds the water is the one who makes the river dry." At this point,
conflicts between commercial farmers and villagers were highlighted as downstream people
faced hardships while commercial farmers "sat on their water. The advantage belongs to the
person who owns a dam."
Many participants wanted to know whether any provisions had been made in the new act
to allow access by villagers to some of this water for subsistence purposes. This issue points to
the fundamental differences between various stakeholders and their understanding of rights to
water. In the rural context, water that is usually more rigorously controlled, or even privatised
becomes less, stringently controlled during drought periods. As with traditional water rights
there some accommodation to any human being's basic right to water for domestic and
livestock use.27 This is a different case with many commercial farmers whose view of resources
is essentially that private rights remain private regardless of circumstances.
Most of the villagers active in this meeting were representatives of water boards or sub
catchment boards. Yet they stated that "we have come to the meeting but we don't know what
it is about." This unwillingness to identify with the process, what researchers later called
orchestrated ignorance, was actually a strategy used by the villagers to reject the proposal. In
many instances, participants stated that they could not endorse a proposal that they did not
understand. Few villagers showed much interest in the discussions at these meetings. Some
participants blamed their lack of participation on the use of English in the meeting. In some
cases, there were clearly discrepancies in the translations, which the participants found
annoying. One district councillor pointed out that it seemed the catchment board themselves
were not yet clear about the proposal. Therefore the councillor recommended that "they should

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Participation and Stakeholder Dynamics in the Water Reform Process in Zimbabwe I 27

go back and straighten out the differences before seeking to close the gaps that exist between
the catchment board and other lower structures."

Case Study 2: Nyadiri Sub-Catchment Consultative Meeting (October 13, 1999)

The Nyadiri consultative meeting was well attended and dominated by the presence of
traditional leaders. There were three chiefs and fifteen headman, two councillors and thirteen
members of the various water boards that constitute the Nyadiri sub-catchment. There were no
women represented in this group. Though it is widely acknowledged that local traditional
authorities should be involved with water boards and sub-catchment boards, they have not
been consistently involved in the process. Most chiefs expressed the sentiment that they did not
understand why they were invited. The chiefs stated that "most people did not know about
permits. The meeting was the first time they were being told about such issues or indeed being
asked to get involved. As far as water is concerned most people follow the ways of their
forefathers and are not aware that this or that use is illegal." Even when it became evident that
more stakeholders would be involved in the new reform process, the participants perceived the
meeting as a knowledge-sharing mission with the state, not as a process of consultation. One
chief stated that "what I see as a problem is that there were no rules, but now the government
wants us to know these rules, so that we understand what will be difficult in the future. They
are now talking about permits, but our concern is for our tiny gardens. You must explain to us
for what kind of use these rules apply."
The purpose of the meeting and the "so called" involvement of local communities in the
water reform process came as a surprise to some of these chiefs. One chief stated that "when
you are ignorant you appear to be difficult because you slow down discussion. I believe that he
who wants a store applies to the district council for space to build, you don't apply if you don't
have money." He thereby suggested that those who have a stake or a greater interest in water
should be involved in the consultations rather than entire communities. However, a
representative from the catchment board countered this suggestion, by stating that "in a church
if a priest focuses on infidelity, it does not imply that the whole congregation is involved.
Therefore, the consultations should involve, everyone even those that appear not to have any
interest in using water commercially now but may do so in the future. We want to plan a
framework for sharing for the future." In support of this position, another chief stated "the
main drawback that I see in this discussion is that many of us are finding it impossible to plan
for what we don't have. We don't want to yoke the bull before the rains come. There is conflict
here. Lets continue with the discussion to see where it leads us. For a person to buy shoes they
must know their size." Many of the chiefs in the meeting would not believe that water could be
shared or that they could be part of the decision-making system. Thus for example, one chief
noted that "we can't share what is flowing. How do we plan or manage what is not there?"
Thus, many participants insisted that the meeting focus on provision of water bodies to
marginalised areas before expecting people to participate as equals in decisions about how
water should be allocated. Discussing the proposed water allocation system was therefore seen
as "wasting time discussing what should happen tomorrow when we have nothing and are
unlikely to see these plans. This is like buying maternity dresses for women who were not even

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

28 I Sithole

pregnant. You should build dams in communal areas first before we come to this sort of
discussion." To most participants in this group, the discussions were therefore abstract and
largely meaningless. One of the important chiefs in the area questioned the meaning of
consultation if the purpose was to "sell an alien allocation system" which no one understood
and or felt able to judge. The respondent stated that "you just want to confuse us when you
know what you want. You know how water should be allocated, yet you come to ask us when
we are not even involved in allocation. Is it possible to give a name to a child who is not even
The discussions also highlighted the polarity in views on how the proposed allocation
system would influence existing societal relations and provide disincentives for expansion of
agriculture in rural areas. One participant observed that the proposed water allocation system
would make people with small-scale gardens or irrigation schemes abandon them rather than
pay fees for water. The willingness to pay for water is an issue that will need to be addressed,
especially where water had long been regarded as a free resource. One responded stated that
"This water that you want permits for, who is making it? Who is its owner? Can you really fight
over water in the Nyadire sub-catchment? Why would I want a permit for water that is flowing
through?" Such stakeholders clearly felt such an allocation system would surely mean an
increase in conflicts over scarce resources.
Some of the members of sub-catchment boards seemed to not understand the proportional
allocation system, even though they are part of the organisation that is proposing the system of
sharing water (also see Figure 1). The ignorance of sub-catchment board members suggests that
the centre was operating in isolation from other structures within the catchment. One of the
participants stated that "if water user board members and sub catchment board members are
also asking questions about water reform, we begin to loose confidence in the programme
because there should be no information gap between these board members and the Mazoe
catchment board secretariat." Chiefs expressed concern about the election process for the
various boards and noted that most of them were not even aware of the existence of these
structures in their areas.

Case Study 3: Kairezi Sub-Catchment Board Discussions (October 13, 1999)

The composition of the audience in the Kairezi consultative meeting was thirteen white
commercial farmers and twenty-four representatives of rural water boards. There were also
some government departments represented at the meeting. From the whispered exchanges
between farmers, the facial expressions and tone of responses, some among the white
commercial farmers appeared impatient. Though these farmers were representing different
water boards, there seemed to have been some prior discussion among them about which issues
were to be raised at the meeting. All commercial farmers left the meeting after the tea break,
save for the two leaders of sub-catchment boards. Most of the villagers stayed until the end of
the meeting, not because they had pressing issues that needed to be resolved, but because
money for travel and lunch was only given out at the end of the meeting. Villagers seemed lost
in much of the discussion. Most had never applied for, held, or felt the need for a water right.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Participation and Stakeholder Dynamics in the Water Reform Process in Zimbabwe I 29

Commercial farmers dominated the meeting initially, asking questions about security of
rights to private existing dams, control over water in those dams, and the relationship with their
downstream neighbours. The group of white farmers could be divided into those that wished to
understand the mechanics of the proposed system and those that viewed any changes as a
threat to established norms and practices. Most of the hostility in the meeting emanated from
those commercial farmers with existing rights which they would lose or have to share. There
were also a commercial farmers who had wanted to increase their right and some new
applicants who found the discussion riveting and non-threatening. Commercial farmers viewed
stakeholder involvement in management and allocation of water as a government attempt to
transfer state responsibility for providing water to communities. Commercial farmers believed
that being part of the stakeholder group would obligate them to support or underwrite projects
in their catchments, especially in communal areas, which they perceived as a responsibility that
should be shouldered by the state. They further recognized that the disparities in access to other
resources would make it difficult to reach consensus. It was stated in informal discussions over
tea that such existing inequalities would undermine effective stakeholder participation.
Commercial farmers also expressed concern over conditions within the state bureaucracy,
which made the previous system increasingly unworkable and fraught with administrative
problems. The procedures of both the old and new system were discussed. The villagers played
very little role in this discussion, as most of them noted that they were not acquainted with
either system. In addition, doubts were expressed about whether the new system could work
given the massive manpower resources required. The issue of payment to bailiffs and other
required personnel was discussed. There was agreement that elected members of different
council structures could not be expected to work for free. None of the participants wanted to
shoulder the transaction costs of devolution, however empowering to themselves.
Participants at this consultative meeting were also concerned that under the proposed
allocation system, any activity deemed commercial would pay for water. However, this
definition becomes problematic in communal areas where commercial enterprise is often not
the primary aim but an outcome when surpluses are sold. Irrigated agriculture outside official
irrigation schemes tends to be intermittent and disaggregated, though farmers can derive
substantial incomes. Questions were also raised about the mechanics, infrastructure, manpower
requirements for measuring water use in communal areas. The water boards suggested that
monitoring all small gardens and schemes in their area would be too much work for the
potential returns. Participants noted that the revenue is controlled by government and not
invested back in the waterboard where it is collected. So there is no incentive for such a system
to work. They asked the secretariat what was enabling about a system where the government
makes "us charge each other for resources we have invested in but are not accountable to us for
the use of that revenue?" For the villagers, the proposed system is a disincentive especially to
these used to government appropriating successes in any activity. Many participants also asked
how the proposed system would survive the scourge of political interference and patronage
associated with it. Giving the councils more control of the revenue would become an incentive
for all water to be managed efficiently as the benefits derived would be visible. However, white
commercial farmers argued that they did not want to subsidise water use by communal area
farmers who were also benefiting commercially.

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30 I Sithole

Villagers were less co-ordinated in their participation and seemed more concerned with
issues of investment in water and access to existing dams. There was acknowledgement that
since the government did not have money to fund new projects, the users would have finance
these projects. Villagers clearly viewed this as a ridiculous suggestion as they were barely able
to subsist on the incomes they made in communal areas. Often issues raised were title deeds
and the ownership of water under conditions very different from those on commercial farms. If
a communal area farmer decided to construct a dam, it would be more difficult for that farmer
to keep other residents from accessing the water. Moreover, the greater threat of siltation made
it very expensive to build dams in communal areas. Since catchment boards did not control
revenue generated by the permit system, many doubted that the council would be in a position
to finance more communal area projects.
Previously, the public consultations that preceded the Pungwe water pipeline project had
heightened people's awareness in this catchment that water needed to flow to other
downstream users.28 Therefore the issue people raised in relation to this project was "how much
of the water in our rivers can we call our water?" Though there was some attempt in the
meeting to address downstream users and their rights to water, it was clear that it would
remain one of the critical issues that would be debated before the approval of any management
and allocation plan. Transboundary resource sharing becomes particularly pertinent in
communal areas where there are such close ties between peoples living along borders with
other nations.


In the introduction we questioned the feasibility of real devolution in water management.
Devolution to local actors can be a mechanism of increasing stakeholder participation and
power sharing in decision making.29 Murphree (1990) and Murombedzi (1992) both deal with
the issue of devolution in wildlife management, highlighting the shift in power over wildlife
management between levels of government rather than to villagers. In this context, government
increased the autonomy of its regional offices, thereby shifting the structure of local
accountability from the central government to local government structures. Yet this strategy
preserved the hierarchical relationship between the central government and lower level
structures.30 The involvement of stakeholders in the administration and management of
catchments suggests that the state has indeed devolved power to the local level. However,
participants in the Kairezi meeting remained wary of these new organisational structures. They
suggested that the new organisational structures merely added more layers to an already
malfunctioning bureaucracy. The connection of the catchment board to ZINWA and the
Department of Water meant the council was viewed as an extension of government resulting in
bureaucratic decentralisation.31 Moreover, as ZINWA will receive its revenue from catchment
boards, as happened in the case of CAMPFIRE, ZINWA will probably be reluctant to devolve
full control to catchment boards in order to guarantee its continued access to much needed
revenue.32 For devolution to truly occur, participants must see the catchment board as a
government itself rather than as a department of or an extension of the state.33

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Participation and Stakeholder Dynamics in the Water Reform Process in Zimbabwe I 31

Justifying stakeholder participation in the water reform process

The need for rural stakeholders to participate in NRM decision making has been widely
emphasised.34 This need was stressed at every meeting, creating a slogan to face the seemingly
insurmountable odds against any co-operative behaviour among stakeholders. Participants
statements often as these questioned the role of government and emphasised the need for self-
sufficiency. For example, one popular statement was "The Queen could not do it, the Smith
government could not do it, and the Mugabe government can't do it. We have to rely on
ourselves and find means to realise our objectives. We must be strong and we must do it
ourselves." Other statements also reiterated this view, such as "We are tired of waiting for the
government. We will die waiting" or "People are dying from a sickness called mahalaitis" when
referring to frequent requests by villagers for more investment in water by government and
other external actors.35 Other statements were more reminiscent of wartime slogans: "This is our
country, our water and we want to share it equitably." Another statement often repeated during
the meetings was "masimba kuvanhu power to the people," used in these meetings to suggest
power to all stakeholders. However, in a situation where, development of water resources has
historically favoured one group over another, it is evident that much more effort is needed to
define the constituent participants of these organizations.
The proposed reforms are not viewed as homegrown by many participants, suggested by
the statement "You have presented your thoughts. Whose water is this? You must not come
here to confuse us, then say we are being difficult." Participants who are part of the catchment
board bureaucracy tended to isolate themselves from the proposal, which should have been
developed from below, with their consistent input. Throughout the discussions, it was obvious
that the lower structures of the catchment do not identify at all with the proposals tabled by the
catchment board. The proposed allocation is believed to continue favouring those with
infrastructure, particularly white commercial farmers and the state. According to the arguments
presented at different meetings, access to a storage facility guarantees access to your allotted
water rights as well as any surplus available in the catchment. Villagers with no access to such
storage facilities felt their participation only legitimises the proposed allocation system, though
there are little benefits for themselves. As one participant noted, this is "so that we hear first
hand how they are giving each other water so that when we question it, they will say, 'but you
were there, how can you fight such a system?' "Villagers therefore still feel isolated from the
process of decision-making. Villagers could not imagine how such a proposal would operate in
their own areas. One elderly participant stated "to laugh at a running person, you must have
seen them running," suggesting that you cannot agree to something you cannot even visualise.
Though the area covered by the catchment was described and shown on maps, many villagers
felt that the defined area included many socio-religious entities and relations between local
leaders were not always cordial. Implementation of such a system was therefore likely to face
many problems.
Many participants at these sessions felt that the duration of the consultative meetings was
too short. A period of three to five days would have been allowed participants to rise above
their nervousness, incomprehension, and suspicions, thereby participating more effectively in
the meetings. However, this was not possible as funding for the meetings was only sufficient to

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

32 I Sithole

host one day consultations in only six of the more than thirty sub-catchments. Thus one
participant noted, "These half-baked attempts at consultations are what disillusion participants
because they yield nothing and people go away feeling that they have been bamboozled." Some
attendees suggested that this pretence of participation is most problematic as villagers feel
cheated and rushed, therefore becoming more convinced that they should resist. The conditions
for participation also gave the impression of an unfair advantage for those with their own
transport. Most villagers were forced to sit through the entire meeting since per diems and
transport money were only distributed at the end of each meeting. Commercial farmers not
dependent on these payments often left at any point during the meeting. Some participants
complained that the amounts for travel and lunch were very small, making it unattractive to
participate in future consultative meetings. This raised the question of who should carry the
costs of consultation. Most commercial farmers indicated that time costs were their primary

Power dynamics among stakeholders

Power dynamics among these stakeholders are complex, determined by both geography
and historical context. Commercial farmers exercised power through the control of water
resources. The system of allocation perpetuated this power. With the new interest in
stakeholder participation, political power has shifted to the rural poor who have become the
new power elites. However, most of these new power elites do not yet know how to exercise
their power. In reality they remain powerless because they have no access to water storage
space with which they could negotiate. Instead, those commercial farmers apparently
disempowered by the new reforms still retain their control over resources. They have storage
space and the ability to trade that space with other stakeholders. Consequently, in the water
sector stakeholders with political backing do not necessarily possess real power. In most
instances, these new elites are manipulated (blatantly or covertly) into legitimating decisions
that they neither understand nor support. In the context of Zimbabwe's water reform process,
participation is not defined by active involvement in discussion and the exchange of ideas but
by presence in a room.
The Zimbabwe government and certain donors have together attempted to create a
framework for power sharing among stakeholders in the water sector. However, the policy of
devolution as instituted by the state does not explicitly allocate equal powers to all
stakeholders. Rather, there is an unwritten but obvious belief that stakeholder participation
means that power has been shifted to those previously disadvantaged by the water policies of
the past or that the presence of communal area farmers can change the entrenched value and
institutional systems that previously marginalized them. But the three consultative meetings
revealed that most communal area residents do not fully understand this process and do not
feel able to participate on an equal footing with other stakeholders who have more experience,
knowledge and resources. Moreover, there is a difference between white commercial farmers
and villagers regarding strategy and preparation for meetings. Villagers did not seem to
communicate or lobby for common positions before meetings. This failure to hold informal
discussions in arenas other than those financed by the state or donors seems to suggest that

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Participation and Stakeholder Dynamics in the Water Reform Process in Zimbabwe I 33

participation in the so called "catchment board" is not a priority for many villagers. Further
problems with villager participation raise questions about the effectiveness of a tiered system of
resource management.
Moreover, villagers remain wary of both white commercial farmers and a government state
that for many years systematically undermined their confidence about its ability to manage
resources. The mistrust between communal and commercial farmers is longstanding.
Longstanding biases against local participation are coloured by idioms and metaphors of
ignorance that essentially justify the sidelining or ridiculing of views from especially those from
communal area stakeholders. In a study of local participation, by Sithole and Edziwa (1999),
found that despite the numerous programmes put in place by the state and NGOs to empower
as well as increase actual local participation, communal area residents still perceived themselves
as powerless, uninformed and without control over the basic means of production. In general,
these participants felt meetings were held not to actually consult but to legitimate existing
inequalities between commercial farmers and villagers under the guise of friendship. It is
therefore a curious paradox that yhe government with the pilot project seeks to facilitate
stakeholder participation amongst groups that essentially have little respect for one another's
opinions or actions on natural resource management. The consultation meeting for the Nyagui
catchment is a case in point. Local communal area participants refused to participate in a
process over which they had neither control over nor the experience to discuss the matter.
Institutional economists have suggested that the degree of participation by different
stakeholders is determined by the perception of how much impact their participation will have
on real decision-making.36

Using consultative meetings as foci for stakeholder interactions

The data presented here highlights some of the problems of using the consultative meeting
as an arena for stakeholder participation. PRA literature suggests that with expert facilitation,
group dynamics can be steered away from domineering stakeholders to allow the silent to be
heard.37 However, in many of the observed consultative meetings, there was little facilitation
and discussions tended to be dominated by minority groups or individuals. In all the meetings,
the dominant participants were either commercial farmers or representatives from district
councils. Villagers were generally silent in the meetings. However, in the Kairezi meeting, the
individual who dominated the discussion had a mandate to do so from other white commercial
farmers rather than from his sub-catchment board. Even where white commercial farmers
supposedly represented a broader rural constituency, representation appeared to be defined by
their own concerns. In such cases, the participant spoke in very general terms about issues
affecting communal or commercial farmers rather than directing their comments towards a
specific sub-catchment area.
Most communal area residents pointed to their limited English proficiency as the reason for
lack of participation. The majority at most of the meetings had a difficult time understanding
the issues raised during discussions and some appeared to have difficulties reading the
documents circulated at the meetings.38 Yet during tea breaks or on the way to bus stops,
participants who seemed neither interested nor able to read the documents were suddenly

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

34 I Sithole

observed having heated discussions on the very issues that should have been raised during the
meetings. Another issue highlighted by these meetings was that the English-Shona translations
were often inaccurate. In all meetings it seemed that Shona could have been used since most
white commercial farmers were able to communicate easily in this language. The pressure to
respond in English to statements made in English made most of the villagers arguments sound
incoherent. Some statements quoted earlier in this paper illustrated how responses from
participants were often a mix of the two languages. Thus one respondent commented that "Our
responses seem confused and muddled. Do not take this as a sign of ignorance, this is part of
the consultation process that you say you want with us." The difficulties faced with language
raise an important issue of communication between multiple stakeholders. Nuances and
meanings are potentially misinterpreted through translation or the lack thereof.
A defence of the information presented dominated these discussions. However, there were
assurances by the catchment board secretariat that corrections would be made to the proposal
and discussed again with the sub-catchment boards. It was not clear how this could be achieved
given the limited funding. Thus, as one elderly rural participant stated, "how can you fight with
what is written? They just want to know if we can read." This suggests that modes of
communication should vary, as some tend to limit and frighten certain stakeholders. The "they"
in this statement refers to the catchment board and their secretariat. It is the characteristic
tendency of stakeholders to draw on their multiple identities (particularly race) to deal with
differences. Further, the distinction between the secretariat and the lower structures may also
suggest that the relationship between structures is still largely top down. Ignorance of the
proposal shown by most villagers suggests that the council executive is working in isolation of
other organizational structures rather than for or with these structures. The meetings therefore
turned out to be exercises in legitimisation of what some stakeholders considered an
incomprehensible proposal. That none of the participants in any of the meetings rejected the
proposal outright is a surprising result. However, perhaps there was no rejection of the
proposal because most participants felt powerless or were even unaware that they could veto or
"throw the proposal out."


As the data presented shows, there are many factors that militate against devolution of
control and management over natural resources to multiple stakeholders. Participation is also
difficult to achieve where there is a history of stakeholder conflict or confrontation. In all three
meetings, the nature of participation by various stakeholders exposed the divides between
different participants. In a few cases they revealed situations where co-operation could be
possible. However, in most cases participation in a catchment board setting masks the power
dynamics by projecting the marginalized groups as empowered groups. The new power elites
(villagers) find it hard to exercise power and often must sit back while real power is exercised
by participants (white commercial farmers) who have more resources. The power of the new
elites in this context only represents a reversal of power distribution among stakeholders.
Stakeholder participation is hampered by a backlog of colonial resentment that makes genuine
co-operative behaviour impossible. In all meetings, the manner of the commercial farmers

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Participation and Stakeholder Dynamics in the Water Reform Process in Zimbabwe I 35

suggests that they have indeed been disempowered and feel no great push to co-operate with
the villagers. Under these circumstances commercial farmers must exercise their power more
discretely. On the other hand, villagers hide behind masks of ignorance and impatience in order
to dissociate their participation from the devolved authorities. Murphree (1999) describes such
action as "socially constructed vetoes" where communities excise their power to express
disapproval of processes or actions. The water reform process in Zimbabwe currently promotes
a framework for natural resources management which reduces government spending, transfers
accountability to water users and yet maintains control over revenues generated for little effort.
Moreover, the transaction costs for achieving genuine devolution are very high, especially
where communal are residents must be included.
Participants' perception of the state's role in resource management have not changed.
Government is still seen as an entity distinct from stakeholders which maintains the power of
veto, rendering stakeholder participation meaningless. Donor funding may undermine rather
than advance participation if participants especially where participants go away feeling out
manoeuvred. Furthermore, continued reliance on donor financing of stakeholder participation
is unlikely to result in the long-term sustainability of such a process. Despite the overwhelming
support for the policy of devolution, no level playing field exists for all stakeholders. The water
reform process in Zimbabwe provides yet another example of hastily and ill conceived attempts
at solving long- standing disparities among stakeholders without substantive investment in the
"glue" that could make such co-operation work.


1. This paper is based on work undertaken as part of the Broadening Access and
Strengtherning Input Market Systems/collaborative Research Support Program
(BASIS/CRISP) in Zimbabwe. Several people in the project contributed comments that
helped shape this paper. Project personnel (Claudious Chikozho, Slyvestor Hwenha and
Professor Bill Derman) have contributed insights and comments on the early drafts of
the paper. Professor Campbell and Dr Dore reviewed initial drafts of the paper.
Claudious Chikozho and Syvestor Hwenha attended some of the meetings with me and
contributed insights on stakeholder dynamics and participation. Names of individuals
who made statements cited in this paper have been protected.
2. White 1996.
3. Arnold 1998.
4. Arnstein 1969.
5. Arnstein 1969, Cornwall and Gaventa 2000.
6. Fisher 1995.
7. Weber et al. 2000.
8. Bratton 1994.
9. Bratton 1994, 233.
10. Vallareal 1992
11. Ingles e. al. 1999
12. See Murphree 1994, Guijit and Shah, 1998.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

36 I Sithole

13. Guijit and Shah 1998, Edmunds and Wollenberg 2000.
14. For institutional and legal aspects see Nhira 1997; for politics and advocacy for reform
see Derman and Ferguson 1999.
15. University of Zimbabwe workshop on "Water for Agriculture: Current Practices and
Future Prospects" (March 11-13, Harare, Zimbabwe).
16. Dougherty 1997, 43.
17. Nhira 1997, Derman and Ferguson 1999.
18. Chatora et al. 1996, Nhira 1997, Derman and Fegurson 1999.
19. Dougherty 1997.
20. Mazoe Board (April 5, 1998)
21. BASIS/CRISP Broadening Access and Strengthening Input Market
Systems/Collaborative Research Support Programme.
22. This paper is one of several papers focusing on various aspects of the water reform
process. Already published and excellent complement to this paper is Derman, B. and
Ferguson, A. (1999). "Against the Flow: Activism and Advocacy in the Reform of
Zimbabwe's Water Sector." Culture and Agriculture 21, no. 3: 3-9.
23. Long and Long 1992, Bratton 1994, Scoones and Thompson 1994.
24. Scoones and Thompson 1994.
25. Fortmann 1995, 2.
26. Goebel 1996.
27. Sithole 1999.
28. The Pungwe Pipe Line Project supplies water to a nearby city of Mutare. The
environmental impact assessments for the project emphasised the need to allow water to
flow downstream to other users especially those in Mozambique.
29. Ribot 1999.
30. Burkie et al. 1999.
31. Agrawal and Ribot 1999.
32. See Murphree 1990, Murombedzi 1992.
33. Mahapatra 1999.
34. Plant and Plant 1992, WECD 1989, The Ecologist 1992.
35. Mahalaaitis is an anglicised form of a Shona word mahala which means without
working for something, or free.
36. Burki et al. 1999.
37. Long and Long 1992, Goebel 1999, Scoones and Thompson 1994.
38. CASS undertook to translate the document for the communal people.


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Arnstein, S.R. "Citizen Participation." Journal Of The American Institute of Planners 35 (1969):

Bratton, M. 1. "Peasant and State Relations in Post Colonial Africa: Patterns of Engagement and
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Water Sector in Zimbabwe: Current Weaknesses, Recent Initiatives and Their Operational
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Campbell, B.M., Sithole B., and Frost, P.G.H. "CAMPFIRE Experiences In Zimbabwe." Science
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Chatora C., Taylor P., and Hoevenaars J.P.M. Identification Mission: Mupfure Catchment
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Cheru, F. The Silent Revolution in Africa: Debt, Development and Democracy. London: Zed
Press, 1989.

Cornwall, A., and Gaventa, J. (2000). "From Users and Choosers to Makers and Shapers:
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Dougherty, T. "Realities of Stakeholder Participation in Water Resources Management: The
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University of Zimbabwe, 1997.

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Ecologist. Whose Common Future? Reclaiming the Commons. London: Earthscan, 1993.

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Accepted for publication in World Development (2000).

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Development 23 (1995): 1053-1063.

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Smith, O., Starfield, A.M. and Westphal, M.I. "Sustaining Natural and Human Capital: Villagers
and Scientists." Science 283 (1999): 1855-1856.

Goebel, A. "Process, Perception and Power: Notes from 'Participatory Research in a
Zimbabwean Resettlement Area.' Development and Change 29 (1996): 276-305.

The Water Act of 1976. Chapter 20:22. Harare: Government of Rhodesia.

Gujit, I. and Shah, M. K. The Myth of Community: Gender Issues in Participatory Development.
London: Intermediate Technology Publications, 1998.

Ingles, W.A., Musch, A., and Qwist-Hoffmann, C. The Participatory Process for Supporting
Collaborative Management of Natural Resources: An Overview. Rome: FAO, 1999.

Long, N. and Long, A., eds., Battlefields of Knowledge: The Interlocking of Theory and Practice
in Social Research and Development. London: Routledge, 1992.

Mahapatra, R. "Bridging the Gap." Down to Earth 9, no. 4 (2000): 38-47.

Marqet, J. Power and Society in Africa. London: World University Library, 1971.

Mazoe Catchment Board. The Fractional Allocation System. Pamphlet. May 4, 1998.

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Environmental Control." Environment and History 1 (1995): 1-14.

Murombedzi, J. State Versus Local Control In Natural Resources Management: Zimbabwe's
CAMPFIRE Programme. Unpublished paper from workshop on common property, September
22-24, 1992.

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Participation and Stakeholder Dynamics in the Water Reform Process in Zimbabwe I 39

Murphree, M.W. "The Role of Institutions in Community Based Conservation," in Western, D.
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Murphree, M.W. "Confronting Perversity: Surmounting Stalemates in Environmental
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Zimbabwe: Current Weaknesses, Recent Initiatives and Their Operational Problems. CASS
Occasional Paper series: CPN86/97. Harare: University Of Zimbabwe, 1997.

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Considerations. Unpublished PhD Thesis, CASS, Harare: University of Zimbabwe, 1999.

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31, no. 3 (1999): 21-26.

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Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article:
Sithole, Bevlyne. "Participation and Stakeholder Dynamics in the Water Reform Process in
Zimbabwe: The Case of the Mazoe Pilot Catchment Board." African Studies Quarterly 5, no.3
(Fall 2001): online URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v5/v5i3a2.htm

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Allocation of Governmental Authority and Responsibility in

Tiered Governance Regimes: The Case of the Chivi Rural

District Council Landuse Planning and Conservation By-Laws


Abstract: The proper alignment of authority and responsibility within and between
various levels of social organization is a fundamental governance problem. This study
uses a review approach to critically interrogate the political economy of the allocation of
environmental jurisdictions between the state, local communities and Rural District
Councils in Zimbabwe. Rural District Councils have the authority to enact conservation
and landuse planning by-laws. A subsidiary aim is to investigate the practical operation
of these by-laws in everyday social life through analysis that situates the effectiveness of
by-laws within the theme of proximity to citizens. Several flaws and contradictions are
evident in the political economy of the allocation of authority and responsibility among
these actors. Assignment of responsibilities is framed by a top-down structure in which
entrustments are transferred solely to Rural District Councils at the expense of other
levels of social organization, particularly those dose to the citizens. Governance
arrangements fostered through the by-laws punish citizens for not respecting
arrangements that they do not effectively participate in crafting. Revenues accruing from
fines imposed on people violating such arrangements accrue to the Rural District
Councils, not to the communities from which they are extracted. The study argues for
innovative governance approaches that entail fundamental changes in by-law


Although decentralization is in vogue, the centralization-decentralization dichotomy
appears to be of limited analytical value in understanding operational aspects of the assignment
of jurisdiction in tiered regimes. The dichotomy is implicitly based on a source-sink model.
Such a model assumes a one-off allocation process in which entrustments are permanently
abstracted from one level and retired into another level. A related assumption of the model is
that the purposes of such transfers are automatically met once the transfer is done, or that
conditions elsewhere are static such that, once assigned, jurisdictions will always remain secure
and effective. But this rarely happens in a complex and dynamic world where policy intent
seldom translates into intended outcomes.' Moreover, the goals of governance may be expected

Alois Mandondo is a Research Associate with the Institute of Environmental Studies at the University of Zimbabwe
and Centre for International Forestry Research. His research interest is in the area of melding biophysical and social
science analyses in the study of rural systems.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

42 I Mandondo

to vary from time to time, and from one governance system to another. This implies that there
can never be a universal governance goal that will be satisfied in perpetuity by a particular
centralization or decentralization arrangement. Studies on the assignment of governance need
to move beyond the appropriateness of centralization or decentralization and away from static
notions of one-off assignments of jurisdiction to utilize dynamic and process-based analytical
approaches.2 Particular governance arrangements may result in unintended outcomes, and
changes in related socio-political and other environments may supercede the goals for which
given governance systems were originally crafted.
Coglianese and Nicolaidis (1996) argue that governance arrangements and outcomes are
best seen as dynamic, characterized by a "pendulum effect" in which power flows within and
between levels.3 They argue that it is important to understand the allocation mechanisms of any
governance context, including how these are crafted, combined and traded off against each
other. Using principal-agent theory, they propose four mechanisms through which jurisdiction
can be allocated within tiered governance regimes: delineation, monitoring, sharing and
reversibility mechanisms. Principal-agent relationships develop when authority is shifted from
one set of players (representing the principal) to another set (representing the agent), with
mechanisms to ensure that authority is utilized for purposes underlying the delegation, and not
usurped or abused for other uses.4
Delineation provides a clear specification of the scope of delegation, as well as standards
and guidelines for the exercise of that authority.5 Among other things, monitoring helps
determine whether the agent is operating within the confines of the scope of delegation;
whether the assignment is achieving the goal for which it was intended; or whether set
standards and guidelines are being followed. The principal may also reduce the agent's
discretionary powers by sharing in the activities of the delegated unit. Sharing mechanisms
include: separation of powers (e.g. between legislative, judiciary and executive arms of a
jurisdiction); representation of lower units in higher units; and decision-making arrangements
within sharing arenas (i.e. whether by majority or unanimity). Reversibility provides for a
corrective measure to help ensure the re-alignment of other allocative mechanisms so that
governance arrangements meet the goals for which they are intended. Examples of reversibility
arrangements include provisions specifying the expiry date of a particular delegation to allow
for scrutiny and review or revocability arrangements that allow the endowed level to step in to
revoke the delegation under certain circumstances.
Allocation mechanisms may, from time to time or from place to place, vary in their extent,
intensity or explicitness. For instance, delineation could be narrow or broad, monitoring may
range from loose to tight or from regularized to ad hoc, whilst reversibility may be explicit or
implicit. Permutations of sharing mechanisms can therefore be variously traded-off against each
other to ensure cost-effective governance (e.g. broad delineation may be complemented by tight
monitoring and explicit sharing arrangements might be matched with less reversibility).
Decisions made within a cost-effective governance system also need to be as efficient as
possible. In general, these conditions are better optimized if jurisdictions remain close to the
citizens. This theme of closeness of jurisdictions is enshrined in the principle of subsidiarity,
which holds that problems are best solved within the subsystem where they arise. Alternatively

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Allocation of Governmental Authority and Responsibility in Tiered Governance Regimes I 43

phrased, in order to protect basic justice, upper level actors should undertake only those
initiatives that exceed the capacity of lower level actors.6
The main aim of this study is to critically interrogate the political economy of the allocation
of environmental jurisdictions between the state, local communities and Rural District Councils
in Zimbabwe. Rural District Councils have the authority to enact conservation and landuse
planning by-laws. This paper goes beyond principal-agent ties of how the state holds local
governments accountable to include the implications of such transfers on how local government
can be held accountable to local populations, since the transfers are ostensibly done to create
local autonomy. A subsidiary aim of the study is to relate practical aspects of the formulation
and operation of the by-laws to the theme of their proximity to citizens and how this impinges
on the effectiveness of the by-laws.7 By-laws are treated within a generic frame of reference for
the main aim, since aspects of the allocation of jurisdictions by way of by-laws apply in similar
fashion throughout the country's fifty-five districts. The study relies on review of secondary
material, including relevant legislation, for the main aim. The subsidiary aim relies on fieldwork
conducted in Chivi District where informal interviews were held with Rural District Council
officials, councilors, council resource monitors, headmen, village heads and other ordinary men
and women.


The Rural District Council is where effective decentralization ends, at least in terms of the
legal framework. Enacted in 1982, the Communal Lands Act vests control over land to the
president, but devolves its administration to the Rural District Councils. The act therefore
designates Rural District Councils as de jure land authorities. The Rural District Councils Act
(enacted in 1988) reinforces the powers that a variety of other laws vested in the councils:

Communal Lands Act defines them as land authorities (with powers to allocate land
under their jurisdiction, in conjunction with district administrators);

Parks and Wildlife Act designates them as appropriate authorities over wildlife
resources in their areas;

Communal Lands Forest Produce Act vests them with the power to grant licenses for
timber concessions in communal areas;

Natural Resources Act designated them as authorities for the conservation of resources
within their districts;

Environmental Management Act seeks to grant them appropriate authority status over a
broad range of resources.

The Rural District Councils Act additionally vested councils with the following powers:
raising revenues through taxes, levies and tariffs from their areas; acting as local planning and
development authorities; and enacting legally-binding landuse planning/conservation by-laws

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44 I Mandondo

that apply for areas under their jurisdiction. The next section will consider how the Rural
District Councils' legal personality and organizational structures have impinged or impinge on
grassroots participation.


Rural District Councils are vested with legal personality through a variety of acts. In terms
of membership, the Rural District Councils consist of elected councilors representing the
interests of their constituent wards, district heads of line ministries, council executives, chiefs as
ex officio members, and, in some districts, co-opted NGOs. Thus, far from being homogenous,
the Rural District Councils potentially represent a complex mix of grassroots, customary,
bureaucratic and technocratic interests. In principle, the composition of RDCs should not entail
any contradiction since it potentially provides for a sharing forum that blends the top-down
visions of sectoral and bureaucratic experts with the bottom-up visions of elected community
representatives. In practice, such sharing does not necessarily imply that the councils are
accountable and responsive to the needs of the citizens. The councils largely remain
unresponsive to the needs of citizens because of the poor structuring of certain accountability
For instance, during the postcolonial period, elite political interests in Zimbabwe have
patronized the process resulting in the election of politicized councilors. They owe allegiance
and are upwardly accountable to the major political party that endorses their candidature.8 In
addition, the councils operate through a system of committees, each tasked with a specific
mandate. In principle these committees are supposed to report and be accountable to the full
council containing elected community representatives. In practice, however, some such
committees actually override council. For instance, the Chivi Rural District Council has the
following committees: finance and staffing; planning; social services; natural resources;
licensing; and an "advisory" Rural District Development Committee (RDDC). The Rural District
Development committee is a powerful arm of council, consisting of district heads of
government ministries, chairpersons of the Rural District Council's other committees, and
district heads of national security organs. It is presided over by the District Administrator, a
bureaucrat representing the Minister of Local Government and National Housing. Council
representatives of grassroots communities are thus under-represented in the Rural District
Development Committee. Yet the RDDC is the district's supreme planning body charged with
consolidating various grassroots plans from the wards into the district's annual and five-year
plans. The RDDC is supposed to discharge its mandate within an advisory context but in
practice the body normally operates in a directive mode. The RDDC simply reports unilateral
resolutions without being effectively accountable to council.
Thus, although the Rural District Development Committee is potentially a forum for
melding community and sectoral plans, in practice it attenuates the spirit of popular
participation and sidelines community plans and visions. The dominance of technocrats at the
district level partly underlies the technicist content and orientation of the by-laws adopted by
the Chivi Rural District Council. The issue of the content of by-laws is considered in later
sections of this article. It is important to note at this point that Rural District Councils (as legal

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Allocation of Governmental Authority and Responsibility in Tiered Governance Regimes I 45

persons with minor legislative competence over by-law formulation in areas under their
jurisdiction) do not effectively represent the visions and aspirations of grassroots communities,
nor are they effectively accountable to them.


The legislative authority of Rural District Councils is subsidiary to national statutes, and it
has to be consistent with such statutes. The Rural District Councils Act includes a schedule that
clearly specifies the areas in which the Rural District Councils enjoy privileges to enact legally
binding by-laws. The schedule lists 116 areas which fall under a fourteen-part category of issues
(see Appendix 1). Part two of the schedule circumscribes the range of issues over which council
can enact by-laws relating to property, including natural resources held under common
property arrangements in communal areas. Additional sections of the schedule that are directly
linked to other aspects of the environment include: part six, relating to water resources; part
seven, which relates to sewage reticulation and waste disposal; part eight, relating to wildlife;
and, part thirteen relating to fire management. By-laws are therefore meant to provide more
regulation of these and other issues. The next section considers the by-law formulation process
and examines the extent to which the process allows for downward accountability to local
communities, for whom the by-laws are ostensibly created.


Rural District Councils have the option of formulating by-laws with the participation of
local communities or adopting model by-laws from the Communal Lands.9 Model by-laws
provide for the preparation of landuse plans in council areas, and they are similar to those
promoted by the state in the 1930s.10 They are based on a landuse planning system that makes
use of aerial photographs to divide landscapes into an 8-class system of land units, with a
matching portfolio of suitable uses for each unit. Model by-laws are prescriptive and they do
not embody a spirit of community participation. Their top-down orientation often does not
accord with the priorities and coping strategies of peasant communities."
The process of formulating by-laws with the "participation" of communities does not turn
out to be genuinely participatory or democratic either. In principle, by-law formulation should
be preceded by a preparatory stage during which the need for formulating any set of by-laws is
identified, ideally by communities, who can then notify council through their representative.12
A relevant standing committee of council (e.g. the Natural Resources Committee) then examines
the need for such by-laws, consulting expert opinion, and then making recommendations to
council.13 On face value, this is a potentially democratic process by which local communities can
demand by-laws through their "democratically" elected representatives. In practice, by-laws are
formulated at the district level, without effective participation from communities. This occurs in
most of the districts that opt not to adopt the model by-laws.14 Although councilors sit as elected
representatives, the actual formulation of by-laws overlays the contours of power within
council structures, whereby council bureaucrats/technocrats have a much stronger voice.
"Community" remains a constituency of subordinate and weakened forms of power within local

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46 I Mandondo

governance structures. It reflects fragmentary memberships or interests and represents a
marginalized voice in key local government decision making fora, such as the RDDCs.15
Despite recognizing the need for local participation in the authorship of by-laws, the
legislative framework does not provide authoritative guidelines on participation. The
framework neither specifies minimum acceptable thresholds of participation nor the ways and
means of achieving such participation. Existing legislation, therefore, does not fully embrace the
principles of greater public participation as a way to increase democratic involvement in local
government at the community level. It leaves Rural District Councils with considerable
discretionary power over the extent and scope of local involvement in by-law formulation.
The actual formulation of by-laws can be a tortuous and extended process, with much time
allocated to allow for higher-level provincial officials and the relevant cabinet minister to
scrutinize by-laws before endorsing them. Local communities are only given thirty days to
inspect the by-laws and, if necessary, lodge objections. To facilitate the inspection of by-laws by
local communities, the framework legislation obliges Rural District Councils to display the by-
laws at Council offices for a specified period and to publish them in a newspaper. Communities
rarely inspect the by-laws, partly because they are left out of the formulation process, but
mainly because the by-laws themselves can only be inspected at the district office, or in obscure
sections of newspapers that peasants cannot easily access. Objections from the community, if
any are raised, are unilaterally deliberated within the council, which can adopt them in whole
or in part, without further dialogue with the communities. The legislation bestowing Rural
District Councils with the power to enact by-laws, therefore, gives the councils wide
discretionary powers and denies communities a sound basis on which to actively participate in
the formulation of by-laws. Fast-tracking inspection of the by-laws by communities also
undermines the spirit of popular participation in by-law formulation.
Endorsement of by-laws is therefore not done with the involvement of the communities. It
remains the exclusive preserve of the relevant minister, to whom the Rural District Councils are
accountable. Whilst by-law inspection is fast-tracked at the community-level, with no "set
pauses," Ministers and the Attorney General enjoy a set pause of up to six months in which to
thoroughly scrutinize the by-laws before approval.16 Rural District Councils submit the
following documentation for ministerial scrutiny: the proposed set of by-laws, proof of
consultation in the form of a notice in the press, list of all objections received, minutes of the
council meetings where the by-laws were discussed, and the final council resolution. The
minister enjoys the discretion to modify or amend the by-laws or to recommend that council
adopt model by-laws if those submitted are not substantially different from the model by-laws.
Ministerial amendments to by-laws are not subject to negotiation and contestation by the Rural
District Councils or the community.
Effective legal systems are best founded on beliefs and values of the societies whose
behavior they govern.17 But the Rural District Councils Act provides for a process in which
Councils are only upwardly accountable to a minister in the formulation and approval of by-
laws and not downwardly accountable to local communities. The minister is far removed from
the resource-use setting and is thus not well placed to ensure that the by-laws embody the
values and beliefs of the community. Although vesting the minister with wide discretionary
powers over endorsement may be well-intentioned (e.g. to ensure that the by-laws are

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Allocation of Governmental Authority and Responsibility in Tiered Governance Regimes I 47

consistent with parent legislation), there is no system of checks and balances to ensure that such
powers are exercised in the interests of the grassroots communities. Vesting the minister with
the prerogative to replace council by-laws with a model template of by-laws also defeats the
purpose of local participation in the first place. It becomes a waste of time and resources, since
vesting councils with by-law formulation privileges is ostensibly done to deal with context


Although the framework legislation confers very broad delineations, the Chivi Rural
District Council's by-laws only provide in detail for landuse planning. The by-laws are rather
silent with regards to the use and management of natural resources in communal and
resettlement areas. They include just a few oblique restrictions on: owning, using and
possessing a sleigh; cutting of trees and collection of firewood and timber; and
damage/destruction of fences and conservation works. The council's schedule of fines, however,
reveals that it imposes control over areas that are not clearly provided for in the by-laws,
including: causing veld fires, poaching game and fish, pulling ploughs on the ground, and
cutting down protected tree species. Although findings from the field study indicate that
various forms of illegal land allocation/utilization and tree felling were amongst the major
natural resource management problems, other important issues are provided for in neither the
council's set of by-laws nor the schedule of fines. Natural resource management issues not
covered in the by-laws, but now increasingly important include those widely associated with
the advent of the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme. Prominent among these were
sand extraction for the construction industry, alluvial gold panning along the Runde and the
Tugwi rivers, and extraction of soapstone (munyaka) and timber for the craft industry.
The current Chivi Rural District Council by-laws, gazetted in February 1996, repealed
model by-laws that had been adopted in 1987. In addition to their top-down orientations and
their failure to comprehensively provide for all the important natural resource management
issues, the by-laws also appear somewhat static. Although the framework legislation provides
scope for review and amendments, the extended and tortuous nature of the process imposes
disincentives for councils to regularly undertake such reviews and amendments.19
In spite of their "participatory" formulation, the Chivi Rural District Council by-laws have a
strong technicist content and are based on patronizing, command and control approaches to
natural resource governance. They treat users of natural resources in peasant communities as
passive objects requiring assertive guidance from a more "rational" outside. For instance,
provisions relating to grazing areas empower council to prescribe stocking rates, grazing rights
across owners, grazing/rest periods, and appropriate conservation measures. Provisions
relating to planning of cultivated areas allow council to specify cultivation rights, means or
implements to be used, types of crops, crop rotation, contour ridging/land protection measures,
and fallow periods. This means that decisions are effectively made outside the subsystems in
which related problems occur, with resultant implications for the relevance and effectiveness of
the by-laws.

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48 I Mandondo


In addition to their technicist content and external origin, the by-laws further criminalize
local use of resources. They impose fines in order to restrict the use of natural resources instead
of creating voluntary systems of local regulation with incentives to ensure sustainable use.
Local communities are expected to cooperate with council monitors who impose fines for
various violations. This revenue accrues to the Rural District Council. The arrangement
therefore places the costs of an imposed governance system close to the people but the benefits
remain close to the Rural District Council. This income may be used for any purpose and not
necessarily to address the environmental problems for which the fines were exacted.
Council employs two resource monitors per ward. The monitors assume duty after being
elected with the "participation" of local communities and subsequent vetting by the police. Most
local people, however, denied having participated in the election of monitors because the
process was not widely publicized. Others claimed to have ignored the exercise because of
alternate overriding priorities on their time. Some even stated that they saw the by-laws as
being "oppressive". For instance, a headman remarked that many of the by-laws prevented
people from using trees, "but no-one ever became pregnant to give birth to a tree...the trees are
there for us all to use and care for... and the fact that we use the trees does not necessarily mean
that we do not care for them." Thus, in spite of a veneer of local involvement in the election of
resource monitors, they are largely seen as enforcing externally imposed regulations. This
clearly impinges on the effectiveness of enforcement of the by-laws.
The process of by-law enforcement involves the issue of tickets which impose fines based
on a schedule given to the monitors by the council. Personal details of the violator, including
the postal address, are entered onto two tickets one of which is to be retained by the violator
after signing, and the other sent to the Rural District Council. The person issued with a ticket is
supposed to deposit the stipulated fine at the council offices within a set period. Council officers
are supposed to follow-up and ensure that people deposit their fines on time. Those who do not
pay the fines risk being handed over to the police or courts. In practice, most of these
arrangements seldom work. People issued tickets often quietly ignore them without paying the
fines. Council officials rarely make follow-ups, mainly because of logistical constraints. Not
surprisingly, three council monitors interviewed estimated high default rates (with one
estimating over 60%). Council records, from October 1996 to July 1998, also suggest low
payment levels (see Table 1). Meanwhile, the study found no evidence of anyone handed over
to police for flouting by-laws, and only one case of someone who opted to pay after being
threatened with a court case. The allocation of enforcement responsibilities to monitors by the
council without effective involvement by the communities implies that monitors are upwardly
accountable to the council instead of the communities to whom the by-laws apply.

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Allocation of Governmental Authority and Responsibility in Tiered Governance Regimes I 49

Table 1. Schedule of fines and records of payment of the fines for flouting the Chivi Rural
District Council landuse planning and conservation by-laws between October 1996 and July
1998. Collated from twenty-nine communal areas and resettlement wards.

Offences Penalties in Z$ Number % of total Apprehended

Damage to roadside establishments 300 7 2.1

Causing veld fires 500 30 9.2

Stream-bank cultivation 100 5 1.5

Settlement, illegal homestead 100 61 18.7

Poaching, game and fish 100 1 0.3

Cutting down of trees, protected species 102-213 0 0

Cutting down of trees, not protected 40 85 26.0

Possession of sleighs, pulling plough 100 17 5.2

Unauthorized gardens 100 68 20.8

Unauthorized extension of land 100 44 13.4

Raising wire/fence to go through 25 9 2.7

Unauthorized grazing 100 0 0

The enforcement picture is further worsened by the fact that most people, including
monitors, felt that the proportion of undetected cases was far higher than those apprehended.
This is underlain by several factors, not least of which is low morale among monitors. Low
morale arises both from the failure of council officials to effectively follow up on tickets and
poor levels of remuneration to the monitors. Each resource monitor earns a basic fee of Z$100
per month plus 10% commission on the amount of fines they caused to accrue to council.
Monitoring is therefore largely ad hoc and not intensive or regularized. Resource monitors often
invest their time and effort in other gainful activities. In general, there was greater evidence of
monitors relying on indirect methods of accounting for violators (reliance on tip-offs from third
parties and historical evidence of violations) as compared to direct red-handed apprehension.
The over-reliance of monitors on indirect evidence often results in disputes between monitors
and suspected violators.
Even when suspects agree to pay fines, they frequently do so under protest, perceiving the
fines to be punitive and unfair. The levels of fines are arbitrarily pegged by the council and not

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50 I Mandondo

indexed to levels of community outrage or to community perceptions on the legitimacy of such
fines. All the monitors interviewed reported facing tremendous amounts of pressure from
suspects. All of them were, at one time or another, threatened with bewitchment or physical
violence. On one occasion, a monitor was extricated from a brawl in which he was about to be
axed by an enraged suspect.20 The fear of violence or bewitchment may inhibit monitors from
apprehending certain suspects, although all of them would readily acknowledge this.
All the monitors indicated that it was more effective to enforce the by-laws through
enlisting the support of traditional leaders as compared to relying on council officials. One
monitor argued that traditional leaders were generally more respected than elected
representatives "because councillorship is basically nothing beyond a show of hands, but
chiefly powers are deeper since the chiefs own the land and its people." The threat of expulsion
from a chief's areas was widely acknowledged as one of the most effective instruments of power
that chiefs could invoke against habitual offenders. Support from traditional leaders was
reported as easily forthcoming when by-laws were similar to local rules which the leaders
wanted enforced (e.g. prohibitions against felling fruit trees, big trees and trees that grow in
riverine areas). Enlisting the support of traditional leaders in enforcing council by-laws legally
entails no contradiction since the Traditional Leaders Act (1998) confers such a role on chiefs
and headmen. Two sources of contradiction are, nevertheless, apparent.
First, the Rural District Council system of enforcement exists alongside traditional systems
for enforcing local rules. Traditional systems include implicit norms and mores as well as
explicit rules. The chiefs' and headmen's police have the role of apprehending violators. Local
enforcement also incorporates the belief that one could not evade the spirit guardians of the
land, who could unleash divine visitations upon violators. Suspects accounted for by the chief's
police are either warned, made to pay goat or traditional beer fines, or expelled from the
community if habitual offenders. The efficacy of these mechanisms was not assessed but most
people interviewed reported that such arrangements were generally better respected than
council by-laws. However, no coordination exists between the two natural resource regulation
systems, since suspects can find themselves being censured under either system or both. Fines
in the traditional system have historically been used to mitigate the transaction costs of
convening courts but some people alleged increased incidents of traditional leaders exacting
fines for their own benefit.
A second contradiction arises from the fact that whilst the Traditional Leaders Act
recognizes chiefs as allies in enforcing government by-laws, acts like the Communal Lands Act
and the Rural District Councils Act effectively retain the land allocation powers that were taken
away from chiefs in the immediate post-independence period. But chiefs have continued to
allocate land on the basis of territorial, customary, and other forms of claims. The main
contradiction is that chiefs are expected to uphold by-laws, yet these by-laws dilute and erode
their major power base i.e. the authority to allocate land. The formal process of land allocation
entails the prospective settler bear a clearance letter from the district of origin before
approaching the headman and councilor for local approval. Final approval is by a council land
allocation committee consisting of the relevant Village Development Committee (VIDCO), the
chief, the councilor and Agritex (national agricultural extension service). There is rampant
disregard of this arrangement by chiefs and headmen, borne out by the statistics in Table 1,

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Allocation of Governmental Authority and Responsibility in Tiered Governance Regimes I 51

which show that various forms of illegal landuse were amongst the most frequently flouted by-
laws in Chivi over an 18-month period. One of the councilors interviewed in this study
estimated illegal land allocations to constitute 60-70% of the new settlements in communal areas
close to his home.
The latest waves of illegal land allocations have assumed elements of an informal real
estate brokerage, with some traditional leaders charging fees to prospective settlers. Several
high profile cases of illegal land allocation were reported, including one from the Barura area
and another from an area near the turn-off to Mutangi. Resolution of both of these cases
involved intervention by the district administration and the Rural District Council. The Rural
District Council requires traditional leaders who illegally allocate land to ensure the vacating of
such land or face prosecution. If charges are preferred, settlers are made to pay fines for trees
they will have felled at a rate of Z$40 per tree.
This study also recorded cross-border ambiguities in regimes of levies charged for sand
extraction by the Chivi and Masvingo Rural District Councils. Both Districts have important
sand extraction sites along the Tugwi River. The Chivi Rural District Council, on one side of the
river was charging Z$2 for every cubic meter of sand extracted, whilst the Masvingo Rural
District Council on the other side charged Z$7.50 per cubic meter. The Chivi Rural District
Council employs monitors to keep records of sand extracted. Monitors receive a 10%
commission. Disparities in levies means these monitors sometimes end up conniving with
contractors not licensed by council, from whom they obtain kickbacks.


A number of contradictions are therefore evident in the political economy of allocation of
authority and responsibility among the Zimbabwean state, local communities, and Rural
District Councils through the conferment, to the latter, of authority to enact by-laws that apply
to areas under their control. Most of these problems arise from the top-down orientations of the
assignment of such authority. First, although framework legislation confers very broad
delineations over authority to enact by-laws, monitoring occurs on the basis of technicist goals
of environmental conservation and "rational" landuse planning, and not on the priorities and
aspirations of the local communities. Second, the entrustments are transferred solely to Rural
District Councils at the expense of other forms of social organization, particularly those closer to
the citizens. Third, although there is scope for sharing in governance, through popular
representation at the district level, effective decisions are made in bodies not accountable to the
council because council is the forum in which local representatives have a greater voice.
Fourth, there is no provision for reversibility through amendments of by-laws by
communities, only by the Rural District Councils and the relevant minister. Such amendments
can only be made on the basis of whether governance delivers on technical goals of "rational"
landuse planning and legal goals of consistency with broader legislation. There is no explicit
provision for amendments on the basis of community priorities, interests, and goals. Fifth, in
addition to being highly prescriptive, the governance system punishes citizens for not
respecting arrangements that were put in place without their effective involvement and consent.
Sixth, the revenue from fines imposed on local communities are directed to Rural District

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52 I Mandondo

Councils, without accruing to the communities from which they are collected or directly
addressing the environmental problems for which they have been imposed. Lastly, the by-laws
fail to provide for the coordination necessary to address cross-border problems and spillover
effects. Such governance arrangements are not well-respected since they are widely viewed as
illegitimate and oppressive. Innovative approaches to governance are required to address these
flaws and contradictions.
Reversing top-down orientations in the assignment of jurisdiction through by-laws would
be amongst the most radical of approaches. This would involve reversals in by-law articulation
in which the formulation and operation of by-laws are effectively placed in the hands of
citizens, with the council playing only monitoring and coordination roles. The Institute of
Environmental Studies is pioneering with such reversals on its Department for International
Development (DFID) funded Micro-catchment Management and Common Property Resources
Project.21 The research objectives of this project include: identifying a range of technical,
institutional and other options for the management of micro-catchments; evaluating the impacts
of the options on various biophysical, economic and institutional variables that have
implications for the micro-catchments; and evaluating the poverty alleviation and
environmental management tradeoffs of the various options. The development objectives
include providing policy makers, extension staff, and communities with the tools to make
sound management decisions and promoting the implementation of such decisions.22
Completed stages in the process of seeking institutional reversals through the DFID project
include exercises by which study communities developed their visions on governance, at first
separately, and later jointly, with their Rural District Council. The joint initiative yielded a
wonderfully democratic vision of by-law articulation in which communities would: formulate
the by laws with council endorsing them; harmonize the multiplicity of rules at the local level
with the council endorsing; set, collect and manage fines, with council monitoring effectiveness;
decide on the disposal of the revenues collected from fines with council negotiating a
percentage depending on its levels of input; enforce, monitor and amend by-law with the
council giving necessary support; negotiate on cross-border and spill-over effects with the
council coordinating and advising. Clearance has already been secured from the Rural District
Council to facilitate the crafting of such a vision, with a view to implementation and
documenting the major lessons for wider uptake in other districts and related contexts. The
support and interest of local communities and the Rural District Council have been, and will
continue to be, key to the initiative.
Another radical approach would be to lobby for the extension of legal mandates for local
natural resource governance to units that are below the district level. A question that receives
scant attention in the literature, however, is the mode through which the diffuse and ever-
changing forms of grassroots social organization can coalesce into resource management units
than can receive legal mandate. Murphree (1997) advocates a strategy of community
identification involving self-definition through the processes of dialogue and negotiation. He
argues that such a process should take cognizance of long-established traditional jurisdictions
and resource management aggregations in order to match social geographies with spatial
resource configurations. The widespread lack of respect for imposed by-laws as well as poor
enforcement and high default rates in the payment of fines all lend weight to "long established

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Allocation of Governmental Authority and Responsibility in Tiered Governance Regimes I 53

traditional jurisdictions" as potentially appropriate units. The emphasis on these bodies also
bears close resemblance to the recommendations of the Land Tenure Commission (set up in the
early 1990s) to investigate appropriate agricultural and tenure systems across Zimbabwe's land
tenure categories.23 The Commission concluded that traditional villages, under village heads,
were the legitimate and appropriate units for natural resource management below the district
level. The Commission recommended granting legal titles to well-mapped village units with
clearly defined boundaries. Most of the recommendations, except that relating to legal titles,
were subsequently adopted by the government and formed the basis of the Traditional Leaders
Act of 1998.
Considerable ambiguity still characterizes the assignment of jurisdiction across a number
of Zimbabwe's environmental legislation. Uncertainty still exists, in spite of the merits of the
above units as possible candidates for legal mandate.24 Jurisdiction over mineral resources,
according to the Mines and Minerals Act, remains the exclusive preserve of the state. The Rural
District Councils Act assigns authority to enact by-laws between the state and the Rural District
Councils. The Parks and Wildlife Act assigns jurisdiction over wildlife resources to the state, the
Rural District Councils in communal areas, and the landed class in freehold areas. The draft
Environmental Management Bill broadens the portfolio of "appropriate authority" to include a
wider range of resources other than just wildlife. In spite of having been preceded by the
Traditional Leaders Act, the draft bill does not complement the bold attempts of the former at
defining potential legal units below the district level. The bill further seeks to vest such
authority in Rural District Councils, without extending it to any units below the district level.
Other approaches could be incremental, with an emphasis on securing and consolidating
community gains in those aspects of current governance arrangements that are potentially
maneuverable. Such an approach could involve: lobbying for better community representation
in the RDDC; lobbying for changes to ensure that the RDDC reports, and is effectively
accountable to council; or lobbying the relevant minister to give greater attention to community
empowerment when he/she endorses or seeks the amendment of the existing sets of the Rural
District Council by-laws.
On a more cautionary note, the call for new approaches to governance appears based on
the unstated assumption that old is undesirable "because we have seen it not working" and that
new will work better "because we have not seen it failing anywhere." Thus, placing governance
powers closer to citizens should not automatically imply that new arrangements will be more
egalitarian and work better. Neither should it be seen as a call for a total return to community
because communities, councils and the state have become intricately interwoven. Furthermore,
asymmetries of power and interest are pervasive within and between various levels of social
organization. It is more pertinent to ensure:

Clarity on what powers are given to each level;

Higher levels do not usurp those powers lower levels can exercise on their own;

Checks, balances, and monitoring mechanisms to ensure that such power is not abused;

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54 I Mandondo

Flexibility and, if need be, reversibility to allow for adaptive changes in governance

Such a vision can only be inspired by analytical approaches that look beyond the merits
and demerits of centralization and decentralization.


This study was completed under activities that were jointly funded by the Center for
International Forestry Research's Stakeholders and Biodiversity in the Forests of the Future
Project funded by the Swiss International Development Agency and the Department for
International Development (UK) Micro-catchment Management and Common Property
Resources Project. I am most grateful for the support I received from various organizations and
persons, particularly the Chivi Rural District Council, its officials, councilors, council resource
monitors, traditional leaders, and other men and women who participated in the interviews.


1. Ferguson 1994.
2. Coglianese and Nicolaidis 1996.
3. Power relations amongst various social groups and levels of social organizations cannot
be expected to be static but to be dynamic often swinging back and forth to reflect the
contestation and negotiation of interest within and between the groups and levels.
4. Agrawal 1997.
5. Taken simply, delineation is a clear specification of the extent of delegated or devolved
powers and the terms and standards on which such privileges should be exercised.
6. Schilling 1995.
7. The criteria for effectiveness are likely to depend on the goals for which a particular
governance system is put in place, but in this study effectiveness is considered within
the contexts of relevance, respect and observance of the by-laws by the communities -
since the by-laws are ostensibly meant to ensure local autonomy.
8. Mandondo 2000.
9. Model Landuse and Conservation By-Laws 1985.
10. Scoones and Matose 1993.
11. Ibid.
12. Kundhlande 2000.
13. The Chivi Rural District Council by-laws stipulates that the council seeks advice from
the following government offices in the preparation of plans for communal and
resettlement areas: the provincial planning officer, the provincial Agritex officer, and the
regional officer in the Ministry of Environment and Tourism.
14. SAFIRE 1999.
15. Mandondo 2000.

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Allocation of Governmental Authority and Responsibility in Tiered Governance Regimes I 55

16. "Set pauses" relate to allocation of sufficient "lag time' during any stage of the process to
give positive opportunity public reaction and participation and presentation of
alternative choices (McAuslan 1993). Note, however, that it implies context of
conditionality in which people are passive subjects with higher level authority in driving
17. McAuslan 1993.
18. Mohamed-Katerere 1999.
19. From a transaction cost perspective.
20. A headman intervened after the suspect had refused to obey the impassioned pleas of
many other people.
21. DFID is the bilateral development agency of the United Kingdom.
22. Frost and Mandondo 1999.
23. Government of Zimbabwe 1994.
24. Indigenous governance forms were co-opted into colonial governance forms, and were
often remolded to advance the designs and intentions of colonial administration to the
extent whereby it may be misleading to speak of "authentic indigenous forms" but
"attenuated indigenous forms" (Chanock 1998).


Agrawal, A. "Shepherds and Their Leaders among the Raikas of India: A Principal-Agent
Perspective." Journal of Theoretical Politics 9 (1997): 235-263.

Coglianese, C. and Nicolaidis, K. Securing Subsidiarity: Legitimacy and the Allocation of
Governing Authority. Cambridge: John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University,

Frost, P.G.H. and Mandondo, A. Improving Rural Livelihoods in Semi-Arid Regions through
Management of Micro-Catchments. Harare: Institute of Environmental Studies, University of
Zimbabwe, 1999.

Ferguson, J. The Anti-Politics Machine: Development, Depoliticization and Bureaucratic Power
in Lesotho. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

Government of Zimbabwe. Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Appropriate Agricultural
Land Tenure Systems. Harare: Government Printer, 1994.

Government of Zimbabwe. The Chivi Rural District Council Landuse and Conservation By-
Laws. Harare: Government Printer, 1995.

Kundhlande, S. Implementing Natural Resource Management By-Laws and
Legislation/Policies: Opportunities and Constraints. Paper presented at an ITDG National Level
workshop on Natural Resources Management and Sustainable Livelihoods, Harare, April 27,

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

56 I Mandondo

Mandondo, A. "Situating Zimbabwe's Natural Resource Governance Systems in History."
Centre for International Forestry Research Working Paper 32. Centre for International Forestry
Research, Bogor, Indonesia, 2000.

McAuslan, P. "The Ideologies of Planning Law." Urban and Regional Planning Series, vol. 22.
Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1993.

Mohamed-Katerere, J. Using Rural District Council By-Laws to Promote Community Based
Natural Resource Management. In Proceedings of a National Workshop on Rural District
Council and Community-Level By-Law Formulation for Community Based Natural Resource
Management. Organized by SAFIRE and held at OTD, July 20-21, 1999.

Murphree, M.W. Congruent Objectives, Competing Interests and Strategic Compromise:
Concept and Process in the Evolution of Zimbabwe's CAMPFIRE Programme. Paper presented
to the Conference on "Representing Communities: Histories and Politics of Community-Based
Resource Management." Unicoi Lodge, Helen, Georgia, USA, 1997.

Murphree, M.W. Boundaries and Borders: The Question of Scale in the Theory and Practice of
Common Property Resource Management. Paper presented at the 8th Biennial Conference of
the International Association for the Study of Common Property. Bloomington, Indiana, May 31
to June 4, 2000.

Schilling, T. Subsidiarity as a Rule and a Principle, or: Taking Subsidiarity Seriously.
Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Scoones, I. and Motose, F. "Local Woodland Management: Constraints and Opportunities for
Sustainable Use," in P.N. Bradley and K. McNamara, eds. Living with Trees: Policies for
Woodland Management in Zimbabwe. Washington D.C.: World Bank, 1993.

Southern Alliance for Indigenous Resources (SAFIRE). Report on the proceedings of a national
workshop on Rural District Council and Community-level By-Law Formulation for Community
Based Natural Resource Management, Harare, July 20-21, 1999.

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article:
Mandondo, Alois. "Allocation of Governmental Authority and Responsibility in Tiered
Governance Regimes: The Case of the Chivi Rural District Council Landuse Planning and
Conservation By-Laws."African Studies Quarterly 5, no.3: online URL:

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Challenges Facing a Community Structure to Implement

CBNRM in the Eastern Cape, South Africa


Abstract: In most developing countries, community based natural resource management
(CBNRM) initiatives have been adopted in an attempt to address the issue of
environmental sustainability. This has largely come about due to an increasing
recognition of the ineffectiveness of the state to achieve such sustainability. Within the
South African context, recent policies have been drafted that aim to achieve these
outcomes, which strongly articulate the need for the participation of local people in the
management of natural resources both within communal areas and on state-owned land.
The objectives of new policies, however, are not being met in the Eastern Cape of South
Africa for the following key reasons: the insufficient recognition of the impact of past
historical and political upheavals experienced within the former homelands' situation;
the government's inability to process land applications; the government's lack of ability
and capacity to implement these policies; and frustratingly high levels of hierarchy at
both the local and national level. The Masakane community, a group of former farm
workers from the former Ciskei homeland in South Africa, are attempting to implement
CBNRM initiatives. The Masakane case study reveals the urgent need to develop,
implement and enforce new institutional and managerial arrangements, because without
such arrangements state policies are unlikely to be implemented at the grassroots level.


The worldwide political and economic changes of the 1980s and the growing concern with
global environmental issues have brought the question of the environment to the forefront of

Michelle Cocks of the Institute for Social and Economic Research, Rhodes University in South Africa, has had a long-
standing interest in resource use and management. She recently completed a medicinal plant survey in the Eastern
Cape to identify the demand for various species in the medicinal plant trade. Her recent work also includes a land
tenure reform project to assist former farm workers acquire land for resettlement and farming purposes. Anthony
Dold is the Assistant Curator of the Schonland Herbarium at Rhodes University Botany Department in
Grahamstown, South Africa. His recent work includes the taxonomy of the Mesembryanthemaceae and
Hyacinthaceae; the documentation of indigenous plant use and natural resource management; ethnobotanical
training and environmental education programmes; and environmental impact assessments and scoping reports. Isla
Grundy is a Senior Lecturer in Community Forestry at the University of Stellenbosch (on secondment from the
University of Oxford), and is the Project Leader of a Rural Development Forestry Education and Training
Programme in South Africa. She has recently been involved in developing a Community Forestry programme at the
University of Stellenbosch, which includes a new undergraduate degree in Community Forestry (B.For.) as well as a
post-graduate programme (Masters and Doctoral studies). She also lectures in Community Forestry at University of
Stellenbosch and Saasveld Forestry College, George, and helps build capacity in community forestry training in
South Africa, primarily at the University of Stellenbosch and Fort Cox College of Agriculture and Forestry in the
Eastern Cape.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

58 I Cocks, Dold, and Grundy

development and politics. This has generated immense interest and discussion over the issue of
its future sustainability.1 In response to the poor conservation outcomes that followed decades
of governments' ineffectiveness in managing natural resources, scholars and policy makers
have been forced to reconsider the role of the community in resource use and conservation.2 The
following reasons for the failures in conservation have been cited: the difficulty in obtaining
diverse information relating to a resource and its users; the problem of enforcement of state
rules in dispersed areas; financial and administrative constraints; corruption within the
bureaucracy which encourages conflicts; and the subordination of environmental to shorter-
term economic or political interests.3 Current writings nevertheless strongly promote the role of
the community in bringing about decentralisation, meaningful participation, and biological
The achievement of effective decentralisation and the devolvement of power and control
over resources from the centralised state to local communities has become a pressing policy
issue in all parts of the world.5 This has led governments, particularly in developing countries,
to formulate polices which increasingly aim to promote participatory rural development and
the empowerment of local populations.6 In the past two decades, this has led to the adoption of
people-centred approaches in several developing countries, such as community forestry in
Nepal and decentralised wildlife management, for example "Campfire," in Zimbabwe.7
The new South African government has adopted a similar standpoint. New and emerging
policies relating to conservation and land management strongly articulate the need for the
participation of local people in the management of natural resources both within communal
areas and on state-owned land.8 The land redistribution and restitution processes have
spearheaded this move, which has been facilitated by the Communal Property Association
(CPA) legislation (Act number 28 of 1996). This backdrop has provided a framework for the
establishment of legal entities enabling groups of beneficiaries to acquire, hold and manage
property on a communal basis.9 It has been predicted that a considerable proportion of South
Africa's rural land will be transferred to group ownership and management.10
This paper highlights some of the challenges facing the implementation of community
based natural resource development (CBNRM) initiatives within large proportions of the
former Ciskei homeland, in the Eastern Cape, at both a community and state level. Despite the
adoption of enabling policies, we observe at grass roots level that a period of chaos is reigning
with regards to the management of natural resources. This situation has arisen as a result of
past political upheaval, and is being compounded by the current inability of the government to
implement adopted policies.


The information presented in this study has been collected from a number of sources. The
Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at Rhodes University has a long history of
developmental involvement in the area and has produced numerous unpublished reports. In
addition, a study by Ainslie (1998) on management of natural resources in a rural settlement in
the Peddie District is an important source of information. For the past four years the first two
authors have had an active involvement in the area on a number of projects.

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Challenges Facing a Community Structure to Implement CBNRM in Eastern Cape, SA I 59

Three methods were used to collect the information. The most important were in-depth
interviews with individuals, key informants (committee members and government officials
from the Department of Land Affairs and the Department of Agriculture) and community
household members. These covered central issues regarding natural resource management.
Furthermore 190 questionnaires were also administered to household members and PRA
workshops were held with community members who represented different interest groups
within the community, for example, men, women and youth.


This study focuses on the Fish River area of the former Ciskei homeland, situated between
the Great Fish River in the west and the Kei River in the east. The area is characterized by Valley
Bushveld vegetation, which in its natural state consists of extremely dense, semi-succulent
thorny scrub forest interspersed with grassland in upland areas."
The study site is found within the Great Fish River Reserve Complex (Figure 1). The
reserve complex consists of three amalgamated nature reserves, namely the Andrises Vosloo
Kudu Reserve, the Double Drift Reserve, and the Sam Knot Reserve. The reserve complex is
surrounded by nine village settlements, accommodating approximately 20,000 people at
approximately 70 people per km2.12 All these villages are characterized by poverty,
environmental degradation, very low or non-existent levels of economic activity, a heavy
dependence on urban earnings and welfare payments, high unemployment, poor infrastructure
and a desperate lack of basic services. Despite the existence of the reserve, almost no collective
benefits have accrued to the communities. The nine villages represent different histories of land
occupancy and land tenure frameworks. These influences have had an impact on a number of
issues including the distribution of people, the distribution and types of settlement, land tenure
systems, land management, and ultimately the use of resources.13
This study focuses on the experiences of the Masakane community, a group of one
hundred and ninety former farm workers and their families located on the northeastern
boundary of the Reserve. The area comprises the following farms: Mooihoek, Thornfield,
Welcomewood, Ebenezer, Victoria Post, Nomtayi (Klipfontein), Fenryn, Llangollen and Tweni
(Figure 1 and 2). These farms were formally owned by white stock farmers and were bought out
by the previous government to consolidate the formation of the Ciskei homeland in1972. Land
in the former homelands is state-owned and held under a modified communal land tenure
system.14 The area is regarded as prime grazing veld for cattle, forming part of the superior
"smaldeel" swathe of sweetveld.15 Two larger communities of Sheshegu and Middledrift
surround the Masakane community. Both Sheshegu and Middledrift are currently densely
populated, have high stocking rates, and are held under a modified communal land tenure


The total population of the Masakane group is approximately 800 people, most of whom
are residents. Over a third (36.9%) are young and working-age adults between the ages of 19

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60 I Cocks, Dold, and Grundy

and 45. Young children and infants between the ages of 1 and 12 comprise approximately a
third (30.6%), while 17.4% are teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 years. The middle-aged
and pensioners each make up 7.2% of the population.16
Few people have formal employment, as income is derived from sale or use of stock and
social welfare is low. Estimates based on questionnaires reveal that just under one third of the
households (30.4%) generate an income of between $85 and $170 a month.17 A smaller group
(22.6%) receive less then $85, while only one sixth (15.4%) earn over $170 a month. Some
families earn small amounts of money from goat, sheep and dairy products.18
The total number of livestock of all the families amounts to 986 cows, 731 goats and 390
sheep. The number of cattle kept by individuals' households varies substantially. A large
percentage of these households own no cattle (45.6%). 26.4% own a small number, between 1
and 5 cattle. 10.7% own a medium-sized herd, between 16 and 40, while 3.1% own significant
herd numbers, over a hundred head of cattle each. Goats, on the other hand, are more evenly
distributed amongst the families.19
In addition to the income and products generated from livestock, social welfare and formal
employment families are heavily reliant on the contribution that the communal rangelands
provide for their livelihood. This is because the communal rangeland is an important source of
grazing land, fuel, food security, nutrition, income, medicines, fertilizer, and building material.
Within the study site, over 83 different plant species were documented as being used on a
regular basis.20 Preliminarily studies, conducted by the authors in nearby communities, reveal
that the mean direct use-value of these resources amounts to $273.43 per household on an
annual bases.21 Access to these resources from communal rangelands contributes to livelihood
security and provides a safety net for rural households.22 Per hectare studies have estimated the
potential value of secondary products to be as high as $133/ha/yr from communal grazing
lands.23 Consequently, the Masakane community considers continued access to these resources
a priority, thus indicating their reliance on these resources.


In the 1980s the South African Development Trust purchased farms in the Victoria East
district for the purpose of consolidation into the former Ciskei. The families of the Masakane
community continued to live on the farms where they were previously employed. The policy of
the then Ciskei government was to retain farmland for "commercial" purposes, by leasing out
units to black farmers who, however, failed to take up residence in the area.24 Consequently, the
Masakane community secured a tentative foothold on this land.
During the period 1980 to 1994, the Masakane families did not act jointly as a group. Each
family made decisions independently and consequently no unified decisions were made
regarding natural resource management issues. During this time families felt exceptionally
vulnerable, particularly when new tenants began arriving. These new tenants showed very little
respect towards the Masakane community despite their three generational residence on the
Only after the overwhelming electoral success of the ANC did the Masakane families feel
confident enough to form their own Resident Association. Their main communal objective

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Challenges Facing a Community Structure to Implement CBNRM in Eastern Cape, SA I 61

became applying for land of their own for settlement purposes and to pursue their livestock
farming interests. It was felt that by forming their own group they could co-ordinate their
efforts. Consequently, between 1994 and 1996, the Masakane Resident Association made several
unsuccessful approaches to the provincial government. Their concerns were eventually taken
up by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) researchers who approached the
Department of Land Affairs for assistance.25 The ISER finally submitted an application for land
for settlement, for commonage purposes, and additional farms for livestock farming on behalf
of the Masakane group in 1998.
In the interim, the Masakane Resident Association prioritised the need to control the influx
of outsiders and to attend to issues surrounding resource management. The Association is
comprised of elected committee members who represent the interests of each farm. The
committee meets weekly and an open forum is held fortnightly. Decisions relating to grazing
regimes and the dipping of stock are made independently on each farm. Each family owning
livestock contributes $2.80 for dipping solution.26 Broader issues affecting all the farms are
decided at committee level. Grazing is in good condition on the farms and is testament to the
fact that this management system is successful.
A number of factors, however, threaten their continued success. These include the impact
of past political polices, a lack of statuary power, and lack of government support.


The formation of the Ciskei homeland in the 1980s led to the introduction of Tribal
Authorities who became responsible for the allocation of land and its management. Later,
various government departments such as the Department of Agriculture (DOA) and
Department of Public Works (DOPW) shared the responsibilities of land and natural resource
management, albeit on an ad-hoc basis. For example, the DOA introduced policies that
attempted to control livestock numbers and funded community-based conservation projects,
such as manual noxious weed eradication and erosion control. The funds made available to
implement these projects tended to be directed towards supporters of Lennox Sebe's Ciskei
National Independence Party and excluded those communities who opposed the Bantustan
system.27 Local headmen were responsible for allocating employment positions and distributing
funds. Community members who gained access to these positions were employed for several
years.28 The DOPW provided fencing and poles to rural communities following the same
stipulations. This had the effect of politicising issues surrounding natural resource
In 1990, Sebe was ousted in a military coup and was replaced by Oupa J. Gqozo as head of
state of the Ciskei. Gqozo suspended the already unpopular headmen but did not transfer their
powers to the ANC-aligned South African National Civic Organisation (SANCO) Resident
Associations at village level. This led to intense political activity and resistance against Gqozo
and his party, the African Democratic Movement (ADM). He later reintroduced the headman
system, and furthermore linked access to rural resources to membership of the ADM.
Conservation projects similar to those introduced under Sebe were implemented and these
were also politically linked.29

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62 I Cocks, Dold, and Grundy

After the instatement of Gqozo in 1990, conditions changed fundamentally for members of
the Masakane community. For example, the DOA established a number of irrigation schemes in
the former Ciskei, under the Small Project Program. A small scheme was established in the
Masakane district to cultivate vegetables for resale. Initially only members of the Middledrift
community were employed to work on the scheme, as they were strong supporters of Gqozo
and his party. However, friction soon developed amongst those community members who were
employed and those who were not. The DOA reacted by replacing all employed Middledrift
community members with Masakane community members. This caused further conflict
between members of the Masakane and Middledrift community and in 1992, the Middledrift
community responded by destroying packing sheds and fences, and by driving their livestock
onto cultivated lands.
In 1982 the Department of Agriculture of the Ciskei introduced a system whereby
stockowners from neighboring communal areas were allowed (at a nominal fee) to graze stock
on the state owned farms.30 The government, through the employment of local stock rangers,
undertook the management of the farms. The rangers were responsible for ensuring that the
farmhouses and irrigation equipment on the farms were not stolen and that additional families
did not move onto the farms. This initiative fell under the Ciskei Employment Assistance
Program (CEAP).31 For the most part, Masakane rangers succeeded in preventing families from
neighboring communities from moving onto the farms. Consequently, the grazing resources
are currently in better condition than the rangelands on the surrounding communal areas.
Because of the poor quality of grazing on the Middledrift communal lands members of the
Middledrift community leased portions of the state farms occupied by the Masakane
community for their livestock.32 It is generally acknowledged that the Middledrift settlements
are overcrowded, with little scope for expansion.33
Twenty seven stock rangers from nine farms were employed for ten years, from 1982 to
1992. As a result some families, despite limited tenure security and with very little state
support, have managed to secure relatively sound livelihoods by accessing rangeland through
the fortuitous land expropriation policies of the former government. Livestock farming has
consequently become the main source of direct livelihood for many families, and indirectly for
most of the community.34
These interventions have had a significant impact as they have politicised key aspects of
resource management in the study site. For example, the state manipulation of the allocation of
resource management funding to their supporters has had the effect of undermining the ability
of local institutions to undertake local resource management initiatives. Currently, local people
have very little incentive to be pro-active in activities relating to erosion control the removal of
noxious weeds because the hope exists that the state will intervene and provide some jobs to
undertake these activities.35 Similarly, with regards to fencing, community members are ever
optimistic that the state will intervene and fund these supplies.
Regarding the Masakane community, these past policies have had a major impact on
politicising their relations with their neighboring communities. For example, under the Sebe
and Gqozo regimes, Masakane families were empowered economically through the allocation
of various job opportunities; these same opportunities were denied to community members of
Middledrift. Furthermore, under the Gqozo regime Masakane rangers were given authority to

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Challenges Facing a Community Structure to Implement CBNRM in Eastern Cape, SA I 63

manage the farms. This resulted in very tense relations between the two communities. After the
termination of CEAP in 1992, by the DOA, the Masakane rangers lost their authority and this
resulted in members of the Middledrift community driving their stock onto the farms without
consultation. This severed relation made it very difficult for the Masakane Resident Association
to enforce its decisions surrounding grazing regimes on the farms.


The lack of statutory power in the Masakane community hinders their ability to enforce
decisions regarding resource management. Currently there are no legal claimants to the
ownership of the land other than the state because the national policy is the disposal of all state
land via the market. This has found resonance in the provincial agricultural policy, which
favours a continuation of individual leases with an option to purchase the model used by the
old Ciskei regime. The majority of Masakane families have strong interest by virtue of their long
residence, but their ownership is currently not acknowledged on "state land." Their informal
rights are protected by short-term legal measures in the form of the Interim Protection of
Informal Land Rights Act (IPILR), but this does not constitute entitlement.36 The IPILR act is a
short-term measure, which protects people from eviction until new land tenure reform
legislation is passed. One of the objectives of the act is to protect long-term vested-interests and
insecure tenure rights which exist in practice but which have not been legally recognized. The
IPILRA protects a person who has occupied the land if he/she is the owner openly and without
having used force to occupy the land, and if he/she has occupied the land in this manner for a
continuous period of 5 years or more prior to December 31, 1997.37
In 1999, the Minister of Department of Land Affairs (DLA), however, approved the
Masakane application which resulted in three of the farms being granted to the Masakane
community.38 The DLA is in the process of implementing the application. However, due to
administrative constraints, including institutional weaknesses and poor co-ordination of the
various spheres of government, the final legal processes of the Masakane community
application have yet to be finalized. This is an example of how administrative constraints within
the DLA are hindering the delivery of land to black South Africans who have been identified as
the primary beneficiaries of the new land reform policies.39
Since the collapse of the Ciskei government's administrative structures in 1994, members of
the Middledrift community have continued to drive their livestock onto the farms currently
occupied by Masakane community, without abiding by lease agreement and payments.40 The
Masakane Resident Association has made numerous formal complaints to the Middledrift
Resident Association concerning the livestock invasions but to no avail. Committee members
have also reported the incident to DOA personnel in Alice but they remain unsympathetic,
pointing out that no clear boundaries are yet in place.
Besides the frequent livestock invasions, neighboring communities also harvest wet and
dry fuelwood from the Masakane farms, contrary to the regulations set by the Masakane
Resident Association. The Resident Association has made several attempts to prevent this since
it is now becoming difficult for families living in the area to harvest sufficient amounts for their
own needs. A formal complaint was made to the both the Middledrift and Sheshegu Resident

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64 I Cocks, Dold, and Grundy

Association. In the instance of the Middledrift community, a fine was paid and no further
incidents have been reported. However, the Sheshegu association has refused to abide by the
regulation until the Masakane community can prove that the land belongs to them.


There is very little support from the local government structures regarding the Resident
Association's attempts to manage their resources. This has stemmed largely from the confusion
created by the amalgamation of former homeland administrative bodies into the new Eastern
Cape Province. This process has been fraught with difficulties, and as a result the provincial
government has been slow to address issues relating to management of natural resources. The
current administrative body responsible for the study site, Amatola District Council, is not able
to affect control over its enormous jurisdiction due to lack of capacity and funds.
Current government policies offer very little support concerning CBNRM. For example, the
Communal Property Association (CPA) Act (1997), developed as part of the Land Reform
Programme, proposes to provide communities with the legal status to collectively acquire, hold
and manage property in terms of a written constitution. A land holding group is required to
draft a constitution which sets out the rules governing access to and management of the jointly
owned land.41 In the study area no CPAs have yet been established and the probability of this
occurring is unlikely, as current studies presented at the Land and Agrarian conference (1999)
show that CPAs are no longer being promoted as a viable option. CPAs are in many cases
established as a requirement for legal entities in collaborative ecotourism initiatives with the
private sector. The constitutions (hastily drawn up by CPAs) often have very little meaning for
their members and are therefore ineffective.42
Apart from the Communal Property Association (CPA) Act, the proposed Land Rights Bill
promised to offer communities more statutory power. Under the new Directorate of Land
Affairs, this bill has been indefinitely postponed, and it is not known yet what guidelines are
envisaged.43 In the interim, no alternative institutional support is offered to rural communities
to manage natural resources, and even extension services have been put on hold. Under the
previous government, the DOA drafted the Ciskei and Transkei Agricultural Development Act
whereby extension officers in the Department were responsible for providing management
assistance in communal grazing areas. This act was annulled in 1996 and new bills are being
drafted to replace it.44 In the interim, the DOA has provided little assistance to rural
communities. Local DOA personnel report that the department's capacity and funding is
severely limited. Currently the regional offices receive only $170 a month for transport and are
therefore unable to assist with outreach programs. Furthermore, local officials are of the opinion
that the Resident Associations do not have the capacity to implement effective programs.45


The case material reveals that despite the CBNRM initiatives adopted by the state, the
communities involved are experiencing a very different impact than that envisaged. Instead of
witnessing a shift in power to the rightful holders and beneficiaries, we observe that numerous

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Challenges Facing a Community Structure to Implement CBNRM in Eastern Cape, SA I 65

factors impede this process. Past political upheavals have severed relations both within and
between communities, thus making it difficult to implement effective natural resource
management initiatives. These difficulties are exasperated by the lack of the government's
ability and capacity to implement policies, particularly within the DLA which is characterized
by over-bureaucratization at the both local and national levels. The lack of the Department's
ability to authorize community status as legal owners of the land they occupy is making it
virtually impossible for communities to implement effective CBNRM. Furthermore, the lack of
government support to local Resident Associations also seriously impacts natural resource
management as community structures are generally unable to enforce regulations.
We therefore need to take heed of Campbell's (1999) warning that the simple devolution of
control and decision-making to local users is not a panacea that will necessarily ensure the
conservation, sustainable use and ongoing social and economic benefits from natural resources.
This is because such sentiments often ignore practical complexities, such as historical and
political issues and even ecological factors as this case has revealed to us.46
In response to the problems identified here it is important to take cognisance of experiences
offered from other parts of the world, regarding state and community efforts to manage local
natural resources. Both bodies have weaknesses in terms of implementing effective
management regimes, but they also have unique strengths. For example, in Botswana,
Rozemeijer et al. (2000) advocate the need for involvement of Local District Councils and
encourage central government to make the necessary resources available to do so effectively.
Similarly, in the South African context, the simple devolution of power from the state to the
people and increased tenurial security will not necessarily result in improved resource
management. There is an urgent need to develop a comprehensive government policy towards
sustainable land and natural resource management.47 In order to co-ordinate these activities,
appropriate mechanisms need to be put in place. This can only be achieved by urgently putting
in place new institutional and managerial arrangements and setting up strong relationships
with government.48 As the Masakane case study shows, without such arrangements the laws lie
fallow, and are likely to remain so. The implementation of environmental awareness and
capacity building programmes within communities would go a long way to help to promote
more sustainable practices in the future.


The authors wish to thank USAID's Regional Centre for Southern Africa's "SADC NRM
Project" The European Union's "Action in Favour of Tropical Forests" Project CSIR's Common
Property STEP Project. Andrew Ainslie, Agriculture Research Council, for his valuable
contribution and insight into the relevant issues; Christo Fabricius, Head of Environmental
Science Program, Rhodes University, for his comments and suggestions made.


1. Twyman 1998.
2. Agrawal and Gibson 1999.

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66 I Cocks, Dold, and Grundy

3. Sekhar 2000.
4. Agrawal and Gibson 1999.
5. Twyman, 1998, Kejembe and Kessy 1999, Sekhar 2000.
6. Twyman 1998.
7. Sekhar 2000.
8. Campbell & Shackleton 1999, Kepe 1999.
9. Shackleton et al. 1998.
10. Ibid.
11. Acocks 1988, Low & Rebelo 1996, Palmer 1988.
12. Fabricius and Burger 1996.
13. Ainslie et al. 1994.
14. Ibid.
15. Cocks and Kingwill 1998.
16. Ibid.
17. The conversion rate in 1997 was $1 to R4.70.
18. Cocks and Kingwill 1998.
19. Ibid.
20. Dold and Cocks 2000.
21. The conversion rate in 2001 was $1 to R8.21.
22. Shackleton et al. 1999.
23. Cousins 1999.
24. Cocks and Kingwill 1998.
25. Ibid.
26. The conversion rate in 2000 was $1 to R7.02.
27. Ainslie 1998.
28. Vanda 2000, personal communication, Mr. S. Vanda (Chief Agricultural Technician,
Alice DOA Offices)
29. Ainslie 1998.
30. Cocks 1997.
31. Vanda 2000, pers. comm.
32. Ibid.
33. Cocks and Kingwill 1998.
34. Ibid.
35. Anislie 1999.
36. Cocks and Kingwill 1998.
37. White Paper 1997.
38. Cocks and Kingwill 1998.
39. Kepe 1999, Cock Kingwill 1998.
40. Cocks and Kingwill 1998.
41. White Paper 1997.
42. Kwaw 1999.
43. White Paper 1997.
44. Department of Agriculture 1996.

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Challenges Facing a Community Structure to Implement CBNRM in Eastern Cape, SA I 67

45. Vanda 2000, pers. comm.
46. Shackleton 2000.
47. Bob and Banoo 1999.
48. von Malttitz and Evans 1998, Bob and Banoo 1999.


Acocks, J. "Veld Types of South Africa." Memoirs of the Botanical Survey of South Africa 57
(1988). South Africa: Botanical Research Institute, Department of Agriculture.

Agrawal, A. and Gibson, C. Enchantment and Disenchantment: The Role of Community in
Natural Resource Conservation. World Development 27, no. 4 (1999).

Ainslie, A.; Fox, R. and Fabricius C. Towards Policies for Feasible and Sustainable Natural
Resource Use: The Mid-Fish River Zonal Study, Eastern Cape. Synthesis of a Multi-Disciplinary
Study Commissioned by the LAPC. Institute of Social and Economic Research, Rhodes
University, 1994.

Ainslie, A. Managing Natural Resources in a Rural Settlement in Peddie District. Master's
Thesis. Rhodes University, 1998.

Ainslie, A. "When 'Community' is not Enough: Managing Common Property Natural
Resources in Rural South Africa." Development Southern Africa 16, no. 3 (1999).

Bob, U. and Banoo, I. Local Institutions and Sustainable Use Management in Land
Redistribution Projects in Rural KwaZulu-Natal (KNZ). Paper presented at Land and Agrarian
Reform Conference: Alpha Training Centre: Broederstroom, Pretoria, 1999.

Campbell, B. Challenges to Proponents of Common Property Systems. Paper presented at
Governance, Property Right and Rules for Woodland and Wildlife Management in Southern
Africa. Harare, Zimbabwe, 1999.

Campbell, B. and Shackleton, S. Empowering Communities to Manage Natural Resources:
Where Does the New power Lie? First draft/outline of the working paper of the Power Study
distributed to each author, 1999.

Cocks, M. The Masakane Land Acquisition Project. Alice District Eastern Cape. Research and
Facilitation. The Institute of Social and Economic Research. Rhodes University, 1997.

Cocks, M. and Kingwill, R. Land and Agrarian Reform: Transition and Continuity on Former
White Owned Farmland in the Eastern Cape Locality. Proceedings of the International
Conference on Land Tenure in the Developing World with a focus on Southern Africa.
University of Cape Town, 1998.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

68 I Cocks, Dold, and Grundy

Cocks, M. and Dold, A.P. Eastern Cape Cultural Resource Management Pilot Project on the
Great Fish River Complex Biological Resources. Unpublished report on behalf of National
Cultural History Museums, 1997.

Cousins, B. "Invisible Capital: the Contribution of Communal Rangelands to Rural Livelihoods
in South Africa." Development Southern Africa 16, no 3 (1999): 299-318.

Department of Agriculture [online] 2000. http://agriculture.pwv.gov.za

Department of Land Affairs. White Paper on South African Land Policy. Land Reform
Programs. April 1997.

Fabricius, C. and Burger, M. Comparison between a Native Reserve and Communal Area in
Xeric Succulent Thicket. A Traditional Healer's Perspective. Unpublished report for Eastern
Cape Nature Conservation, 1996.

Kajembe, G. and Kessy, J. Joint Forest Management in Urumwa Forest Reserve, Tanzania: A
Process in the Making. Paper presented at a seminar and workshop on governance, property
rights and rules on woodlands and wildlife management in Southern Africa, Harare,
Zimbabwe, November 23-24, 1999.

Kepe, T. "The Problem of Defining 'Community': Challenges for Land Reform Programme in
Rural South Africa." Development Southern Africa 16, no 3 (1999).

Kwaw, I. Land Re-Distribution and Management Strategy via the Community Property
Association (CPA): Challenges Facing the Department of Land Affairs in the Northern Province
of South Africa. Paper presented at Land and Agrarian Reform Conference: Alpha Training
Centre. Broederstroom, Pretoria, 1999.

Low, A.B. and A.G. Rebelo. Vegetation of South Africa, Lesotho and Swaziland. Published by
Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Pretoria, 1996.

Palmer, A.R. "Aspects of the Vegetation and Soil Relationship in the Andries Vosloo Kudu
Reserve, Cape Province." South African Journal of Botany 54, no. 4 (1989): 309

Rozemeijer, N. & van der Jagt C. (2000) "Community-Based natural resources management
(CBNRM) in Bostwana: How Community-Based is CBNRM in Botswana?" in S. Shackeleton
and B. Campbell, eds. Empowering Communities to Manage Natural resources: Case Studies
from Southern Africa. On behalf of the SADC Natural Resource Management Programme.
Funded by USAID's Regional Centre for the Southern Africa's "SADC NRM Project," European
Union's "Action in Favour of Tropical Forests" Project, and CSIR's Common Property STEP
Project, 2000.

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Challenges Facing a Community Structure to Implement CBNRM in Eastern Cape, SA I 69

Sekhar, N. "Natural Resource Management: From State to Co-management in India." Journal of
Environmental Planning and Management 43, No. 3 (2000).

Shackelton, S., von Maltitz, G. and Evans, J. "Factors, Conditions and Criteria for the Successful
Management of Natural Resources Held under a Common Property Regime: A South African
Perspective. Land reform and Agrarian Change in Southern Africa: An Occasional Paper
Series (1998).

Shackleton, S., Shackleton, C., Netshiluvhi, T., Geach, B. and Balance, A. How Valuable are our
Woodlands for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods? Local Level Valuation of Woodland Resources
from Three Villages in South Africa. Paper presented at the Natural Forests and Woodlands,
Synposium II "Towards Sustainable Management Based on Scientific Understanding of Forest
and Woodlands". Knysna, 1999.

Shackleton, S. How "Community" is Community Based Natural Resources: Theory, Rhetoric
and Reality. Unpublished CSIR report. CSIR Pretoria, 2000.

Shackleton, S. and Campbell, B., eds. Empowering Communities to Manage Natural Resources:
Case Studies from Southern Africa. Published report on behalf of the SADC Natural Resource
Management Programme, 2000.

Twyman, C. "Rethinking Community Resource Management: Managing Resources or
Managing People in Western Botswana." Third World Quarterly 19, No. 4 (1998): 745.

Von Maltitz, G. and Evans, J. Is Tenure the Root Cause and Consequently the Solution to
Resource Degradation in the Communal Areas of Rural South Africa. Proceedings of the
International Conference on Land Tenure in the Developing World with a focus on Southern
Africa. University of Cape Town, 1989.

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

70 I Cocks, Dold, and Grundy


Figure 1: The Masakane study site


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Figure 2: Masakane Community and Farms

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001



Ki'i ir




Challenges Facing a Community Structure to Implement CBNRM in Eastern Cape, SA I 71

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article:
Cocks, Michelle, Anthony Dold and Isla Grundy. "Challenges Facing a Community Structure to
Implement CBNRM in the Eastern Cape South Africa." African Studies Quarterly 5, no.3:
[online URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v5/v5i3a4.htm

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Can We Be Engineers of Property Rights to Natural Resources?

Some Evidence of Difficulties from the Rural Areas of



Abstract: The desire for research to be policy relevant has caused many social science
studies to have "engineering" dimensions. With respect to the engineering of property
rights, economic approaches indicate that we require knowledge regarding the makeup
of current property rights structures, how changes to current structures affect the use and
management of natural resources, and how property rights have evolved. In the case of
rural areas of Zimbabwe, research has largely disclosed complexities involved in
addressing these questions, but it has not yet provided sufficient information needed to
pursue property rights engineering objectives. The difference between what we know
and what we need to know provides the basis for a research agenda that will require
some significant changes in the way that property rights are described and analyzed.


Although we frequently fail to recognize it, a number of development projects have
dimensions that may be characterized as the engineering of social structures. By engineering, I
mean the intent to change elements of social institutions, such as property rights and
organizations, presumably to increase the welfare of people. The focus of this paper is on the
potential to engineer property rights to natural resource in order to improve livelihoods, and
this focus will be pursued from an economic perspective, following the expertise of the author.'
Property rights have been defined in numerous ways by many disciplines. Indeed, we even
find numerous definitions of property rights within the economics literature.2 However,
common to most economic definitions of property rights is the existence of a valuable good or
service within the context of social conditions. These social conditions may include many
different levels of rules, from federal legislation to local norms and customs. The rules may
apply to individuals, households, villages, or even larger groups of people.3 Furthermore, when
applied to natural resources, we find that such complex sets of social conditions frequently vary
across landscapes and types of natural resources.4

Martin "Marty" Luckert is a Professor of Forest and Natural Resources, Economics and Policy in the Department of
Rural Economy, University of Alberta. A major thrust of his work has involved investigating how property rights to
natural resources influence incentives of natural resource managers and the pursuit of policy objectives. Much of his
earlier work was done in the context of Canadian Forest tenures, but over the past 10 years he has become
increasingly involved in analyses in developing countries.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

74 I Luckert

To economists, these numerous types of social conditions represent complex incentive
frameworks that influence the behavior of property rights holder and thereby influence the
values that are derived from natural resources.5 For example, practitioners frequently talk of
changing rules within property right structures to enhance livelihood and/or to better facilitate
the sustainable use of natural resources.6 It is reasoned that if we change the incentives created
by property rights, the resulting management behavior of local people will also change. Indeed,
we seek "design principals" for structuring successful common property frameworks for
natural resources management, much as a mechanical engineer would seek to obey physical
laws for the construction of a bridge.7 All of these objectives may involve significant changes to
existing property rights structures, meaning that we are, in affect, aspiring to be engineers of
property rights systems.
This desire to be engineers of property rights is quite understandable. We would like our
research to be relevant to real problems, and we would therefore like to influence policy for
beneficial change. However, counteracting this desire to be policy-relevant have been some
ideas arising out of post-modernism that question whether we should attempt to engineer social
systems. Post-modernism recognizes that those outside of the systems in question have largely
attempted social analysis and engineering in developing countries, thereby decreasing their
effectiveness. As such, there is an element of imperialism that has pervaded much research and
subsequent recommendations.8 Given this situation, a second argument emerges --that we
simply do not know enough to be engineers of social systems.
The purpose of this paper is to consider this second argument by posing questions about
what we need to know versus what we know for pursuing our engineering goals with regards
to property rights in Zimbabwe. This paper will not consider the question of whether we should
be engineers of property rights, even if we are capable of such. For the purposes of this paper, it
will be assumed that there is sufficient demand for the engineering of property rights, from
donor agencies at least, to warrant considering the second question. Furthermore, the literature
cited below reveals that in Zimbabwe, local nationals, sometimes working with outside
partners, are meeting much of this demand for research necessary to inform property right
engineering attempts.9 As such, fears of outside values dictating our knowledge base in
Zimbabwe are hopefully minimal.
In this paper, three economic policy perspectives (none of which are mutually exclusive) on
the need for the engineering of property rights will be presented. For each perspective, I will
consider what we need to know with respect to property rights, in order to implement the ideas
that each approach purports. I will then seek to generalize about what we know and do not
know relative to what we need to know. Based on the gap that exists between our knowledge
and our needs, conclusions are presented that discuss challenges to be faced with further


The three economic policy perspectives presented below may be thought of as lying on a
continuum. At one end, there is a "laissez faire" approach that calls for little, if any, property
rights engineering. Economic processes, it is argued, will generally lead us toward improved

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Can We Be Engineers of Property Rights to Natural Resources? I 75

social welfare without the need for central planning. A corollary of this idea is that property
rights to natural resources may evolve according to processes that improve their structures over
time. At the other end of the spectrum, there is the belief that economic processes need some
direction, calling for elements of property rights engineering. In such a case, it is thought that
property rights may need to be adjusted because they will not evolve optimally on their own.
Although it is useful to depict such a spectrum for comparing and contrasting ideas, it should
be noted that few economists would likely characterize themselves as being at either endpoint.
Accordingly, a merged perspective is presented that borrows from aspects of each extreme.

2.1. Perspective 1: Property Rights Engineering and Rational Firms

Economic perspectives on property rights engineering are based on the concept of rational
firms. This concept recognizes that individuals, households, or larger groups make decisions for
good reasons. These alternative decision-making bodies are referred to as firms, while
rationality refers to consistency in making decisions towards desired objectives. Despite the
potential for many different types of firms, for the sake of simplicity, the remainder of the paper
will refer to households as the decision-making unit under consideration.10
Following this perspective, the actions of rational households are thought to be influenced
by incentives that make up their decision-making environment. These incentives may be
influenced by alternative structures of property rights." For example, in Zimbabwe, it is
hypothesized that conflicts between state and local rules have created incentives for local
peoples to degrade woodland resources.12
The logic that falls out of linking property rights and rational households is
straightforward. Property rights may influence the decisions and subsequent actions of
households thereby influencing their livelihoods. Therefore, if we change the property rights we
can change the behavior of households, and potentially stimulate sustainable resource use. In
order to do this, we need to know two basic types of information: what is the structure of
existing property rights, and how would changing the property rights change the behavior of
rational households? Note that these two questions are implicitly connected in that it will be
necessary to describe property rights in a way that enables us to link them to behavior.

2.2. Perspective 2: The Chicago School

The term "Chicago School" arises from several eminent scholars, many of whom are Nobel
prize winners, that have emerged from the University of Chicago. In contrast to the property
right engineering perspective, the Chicago School has pointed out that there may not be a need
for engineering of property rights. In short, it is argued that market forces and transactions
between rational households may cause property rights to evolve and fix potential problems.13
For example, it may be argued that exclusive rights to communal woodlands in Zimbabwe will
evolve when the values of the woodlands are great enough to support the costs of defining and
enforcing the rights.14
If conditions are such that market transactions may fix problems, then it follows that there
is no need for property rights engineering. Accordingly, if the Chicago School of thought is

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76 I Luckert

followed, there is very little that must be known. Things will sort themselves out if you leave
them alone. Despite this optimism, there are realizations, some within the Chicago School itself,
that some situations may preclude the optimal evolution of property rights. Accordingly, this
school of thought has spawned others to investigate more closely why and how property rights
evolve. 15
Although there are elements in the Chicago School thinking that suggest that markets do
not always sort things out correctly, the question is frequently posed: even if markets do fail, do
property right engineers (i.e. governments or other institutions) fail worse?16 This line of
thinking questions the property right engineering perspective that assumes that we can identify
problems and change them with policies that change property rights. Proponents of these ideas
frequently present examples that show how government policies may have been actually more
harmful than the problem they were seeking to fix in the first place.

2.3. Perspective 3: Merged Perspectives

There is quite a bit of common ground between the two perspectives presented above. Both
use rational as a concept and recognize property rights as being a crucial force in influencing
rational behavior. The key difference lies in to what degree one believes that market forces can
fix things, and whether property rights engineers or market forces are in a better position to fix
problems. For example, in Zimbabwe, will local rules evolve to facilitate better management of
woodland resources as they become increasingly scarce, or will governments (or NGOs) need to
fix the problem through new property rights policies, despite historic conflicts between local
and higher level rules that have been created through such efforts?
In combining these ideas into a merged perspective, we end up with a respect for the status
quo and the underlying logic that has caused things to evolve to their present state, while
recognizing that the present state may, nonetheless, be the product of flawed evolutionary
processes. In the case of Zimbabwe, we recognize the complex hierarchies of local and state
rules that have evolved over time, yet recognize that conflicts between state and local laws
could undermine local resource use.17 Following this line of thinking requires knowledge of the
current state of property rights and how they influence behavior (perspective 1), plus
information on how and why property rights evolve (perspective 2).
It follows from the above discussion that from an economic perspective, in order to be
property rights engineers, we must know the current structures of property rights and how
changes to these would affect behavior as well as how property rights evolve. In the following
sections, each of these points is considered in turn in the context of rural areas of Zimbabwe.


A number of village level case studies in Zimbabwe have shown that property rights to
natural resources in rural areas come in many complex forms.18 Similar to findings in other
jurisdictions, several recognition regarding the complexity of property rights have emerged.
First, property rights do not necessarily follow land boundary, but may be associated with
specific resources or resource users. Accordingly, different types of resources and potential

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Can We Be Engineers of Property Rights to Natural Resources? I 77

users within one designated area may have different associated property rights.19_Second, there
are complex hierarchies of property rights. At the national level, Zimbabwe may be described as
having three different kinds of property rights: state land, communal land, and commercial
land.20 However, in addition to the national level regulations that define such areas, there are
also, regional and village level rules that govern the use of natural resources. Furthermore, at
yet a more local level, there are customs, norms and courtesies between households that
influence the use of natural resources.21
Given this complexity, there are a number of things that we do not know about existing
property rights. To begin with, we have not described property rights in systematic ways that
will enable us to compare and contrast important features of various property rights
structures.22_Descriptions of property rights, frequently conducted at the village level, have used
a great variety of methods and concepts that make comparisons difficult. Furthermore, despite
the fact that we know that village level rules exist, we do not know if household perceptions of
these rules vary. Accordingly, although we may have some information about the de jure rules,
there is little known about the de facto understanding of these rules by households who are
using the resources. These observations apply to descriptions that have been made at the village
level, without considering complex property rights conditions that exist above and below this
level. Although we have a fair understanding of the legislative framework governing
establishing property rights to natural resources above the village level, we know little of what
is happening below this level.23_That is, we have very little information on the extent and
importance of inter-household rules, norms, and courtesies.
In trying to isolate out and link the effects of property rights to the behavior of households,
it is not only necessary to understand property rights and resulting behavior, but also to have a
grasp of what else is motivating household behavior.

3.1. Effects of Property Rights on Household Behavior

As discussed above, theory suggests that there is different behavior associated with
different combinations of property rights. Empirical studies relating types of property rights to
observed economic behavior in terms of management performance are scarce in Zimbabwe and
in other jurisdictions. In Zimbabwe, to this writer's knowledge, there is only one such study
where local norms are empirically related to fuelwood collection behavior.24
What we do not know much about, in Zimbabwe or elsewhere, is how individual
characteristics of property rights, as part of complex property right packages, influence
behavior. Very few have been able to empirically link specific characteristics of property rights
to economic behavior.25 With empirical work concentrating on significant differences in
performance between complete packages of property rights, explanations as to why these
results differ between property rights types have been largely conjectural with little or no
empirical evidence. Problems arise because it is not clear how complex incentives created by
property rights are influencing behavior or performance. Without information on the effects of
specific attributes of property rights, policy has received little direction with respect to how
property rights can be incrementally changed to alter management incentives. Furthermore,
while we may have theories regarding individual characteristics of property rights, there has

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78 I Luckert

been little progress made toward developing theories to explain behavior in the simultaneous
presence of several inter-related property rights characteristics.

3.2. Other Factors Influencing Household Behavior other than Property Rights

With respect to behavioral aspects aside from property rights, we have substantial theory
and empirical evidence that suggests that households, in general, do things for very good
reasons. Indeed, a good portion of all empirical work published in microeconomics is based on
this proposition. We also know that these reasons transcend effects of property rights to
considerations of costs and returns to households, risks associated with alternative choices, and
how costs and benefits are valued in different time periods (i.e. time preference).
Unfortunately, in the context of Zimbabwe, and frequently for developing countries in
general, we know very little about what the costs and benefits to various household activities
are. In Zimbabwe, there have been a number of economic studies investigating these types of
values in the context of household behavior with respect to individual types of activities. For
example, Hegan (2000) and Hatton MacDonald et al. (2001) have investigated fuelwood
collection behavior, while Kuhndlande (2000) has looked at the selling behavior of livestock
owners. In addition, Dzuda (2001) and Moyo (2001) have analyzed adoption behavior of water
conservation and smallholder dairy activities, respectively. There have also been a few studies
that have attempted to assess the behavior of households among multiple types of household
activities.26_With respect to risk and time preferences, there are only two studies that have been
conducted. Hedden-Dunkhorst (1997) has conducted the only study on risks of small-holder
farmers in Zimbabwe, with data derived from 4 villages.27 Kundhlande (2000) has conducted
the only study with respect to time preference of rural households in Zimbabwe.
Although the above studies have provided valuable insights into household behavior, we
are a long way from a very complete understanding of why households do what they do in the
rural areas of Zimbabwe. Therefore, we are not yet in a position to be able to say much about
how property rights changes would influence household decisions and livelihoods.

3.3. Evolution of Property Rights in Zimbabwe

There have been a number of studies on the evolution of property rights in Zimbabwe. For
example, at the more macro level, Moyo et al. (1991) describes how resettlement areas evolved
within communal areas, while Bruce et al. (1993) explained how conflicts between "modern"
and "traditional" property rights have influenced property rights transitions. Others have
focused more specifically on the types of property rights structures that are being adopted
locally within these areas.28
The studies cited above have been largely based on sociological approaches. Therefore,
although there is significant knowledge about how and why property rights have evolved using
sociological concepts, to the best of this writer's knowledge, there is only one study that has
tested economic concepts on the theory of property rights evolution in Zimbabwe. In modeling
property rights as endogenous considerations, Kundhlande (2000) has shown that there may be

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Can We Be Engineers of Property Rights to Natural Resources? I 79

current trends away from communal land rights to more individualized rights as economic
firms respond to changes in technology and endowments.
Despite these studies, we have little information about whether economic processes of
property right evolution, identified in other locations, are applicable to Zimbabwe. We also
have little information on whether the evolution of property rights has lead to changes that
improve or decrease the welfare of local peoples. Finally, given the complex processes and
structures of existing property rights, we have little idea of how to introduce new property
rights structures, or processes of change, within the complex existing situation.


From the above discussions, we are left with an alarming situation: what we do know is
little, and what we do not know is scary. In short, this writer does not believe that we are ready
to be property rights engineers or even if we should be. Nonetheless, we are in a situation
where we are forced, to some extent, to be property rights engineers by our desires (and those
of our funding agencies) to implement beneficial change.
So, what do we do? First, it may help us to recognize that there are varying degrees
associated with engineering property rights. At one extreme, we may wish to be able to go in
and design property rights, while at the other extreme, we may simply wish to understand
more about the property rights system. Somewhere in the middle of these two extremes, we
may wish to pass along information to those who are active in the process of property rights
evolution. It is hoped that this discussion has helped to define more clearly where we should
perhaps be currently working. Given the complicated context within which we are working,
this writer believes we are still at the end of the spectrum where we are just seeking to learn
more about current systems, and perhaps position ourselves to pass some of this information
along to those taking part in property rights evolutionary processes.
With regards to characterizing current structures of property rights, new ways of
conceptualizing the complexities of property rights are needed that can systematically describe
property rights for comparative purposes and provide a basis for linking property rights to
behavior. This may involve going beyond labels such as "common property" to looking closer
at key characteristics of property rights. Kundhlande and Luckert (1998) have started on this
task by describing village level rules within a system of characteristics that are theorized to
affect household behavior. Further challenges include examining these characteristics to see if
they are sufficiently robust to capture the complexities above and below the village level. Also,
while these characteristics have been designed for the purpose of linking property rights to
behavior, they are not likely to serve well for investigating the evolution of property rights.
New systems of property right characterization will be needed for varying research objectives.
By acknowledging the complexity of property rights, identifying empirical relationships
between property rights and behavior becomes more difficult. A greater number of potential
explanatory variables, in the midst of numerous necessary ecological and non-property rights
socio-economic controls, can make it difficult to isolate cause and effect relationships. Solutions
to such problems will likely come from searching for case studies where the majority of
property right variables are held constant, such as within a given village, while variations in

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80 I Luckert

individual property right characteristics may exist between households or individuals. For
example, perceptions of household members regarding village level rules could vary resulting
in varying behavior. Furthermore, this writer believes it is time to complement the plethora of
case studies that have been undertaken in Zimbabwe with some cross-sectional studies,
carefully chosen to find variation in key property rights characteristics. Not only would this
allow us to link property rights to behavior better, but it would also give us insights into how
representative our case studies are, and whether there are underlying processes that fit current
theory, or may comprise new theory. Much of our current thinking seems to be dominated by
n=l or 2, case study empiricism. Cross-sectional studies could be used to test some of our
current thinking.
To support our empirical efforts, we will require further refinements in theory. In the
absence of theory, empirical research frequently resorts to the "hunt for correlation" which will
inevitably be found if the data set is large enough, and the researcher is persistent enough.
Further developments in theory may seek to combine the theory that has already been
developed regarding individual property rights characteristics, into more complex incentive
frameworks that reflect the reality of property rights in Zimbabwe. Using simulations to predict
behavior appears to be a potentially promising approach to addressing such complexity.29
With respect to the evolution of property rights, we will have to conduct more studies on
how property rights have evolved and attempt to relate these changes to subsequent effects on
rural livelihoods. As was the situation with studies on existing property rights structures, a
combination of case studies and cross-sectional studies would aid in identifying underlying
evolutionary processes, which could then be compared to existing theory or used to derive an
alternative theory. In analyzing the effectiveness of evolutionary processes, criteria will have to
be explicitly and carefully chosen to assess whether evolutionary change has been beneficial.
These efforts will be plagued by difficulties in isolating the impacts of property rights on
changes in welfare, as other confounding factors, such as dynamics in weather patterns and
populations, may be responsible for livelihood changes. In short, it is going to be difficult to
determine whether the presence or absence of changes in property rights has lead to increased
In sum, the amount that we do not know bodes poorly for current property rights
engineering efforts. However, it provides good direction for future research. In order to sustain
these research efforts, it will be essential that we acknowledge the challenges that still need to
be met and not over-promise what we can deliver. At the same time we will have to
demonstrate steady progress in our ability to meet our property rights engineering objectives.
Such progress will likely come from harnessing the expertise of local and international people
as we try through trial and error and reassessment to improve our understanding of such
complex systems.


1. We also talk of strengthening or creating organizations to accommodate such processes
of change, and of empowering disadvantaged groups. Considerations regarding
whether we are in a position to engineer such social systems are beyond the scope of this

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

Can We Be Engineers of Property Rights to Natural Resources? I 81

paper. The disciplinary perspective and experience of the author will necessarily limit
the content of this paper. Nonetheless, this paper relies heavily on political science,
sociological, and anthropological studies. It is hoped that others better versed in these
and other disciplines will also contribute to the following characterizations of our
knowledge base and needs.
2. Dales 1968, Furubotn and Pejovich 1972, Dahlman 1980, Bromley 1991, Norton and
Alwang 1993.
3. Bromley 1989, McKean 2000, Bruce and Fortmann 1988.
4. There are a number of approaches that have been developed to attempt to categorize
these many types of complex social conditions into different typologies of property
rights. For a review of some of these approaches see Ostrom 2000.
5. For a more comprehensive discussion on economic definitions and behavioral concepts
of property rights see Haley and Luckert 1990.
6. Gibson et al. 2000.
7. Ostrom 1992, 1999.
8. Featherstone et al. 1995.
9. This author counts himself as an outsider who has been fortunate enough to have had
the experience of working with several of the Zimbabwe authors listed in the references.
10. Note that, following the introductory information provided above, the choice of the type
of firm will influence which sets of social conditions are relevant. Therefore, the
property rights conditions that are functioning are dependent on which unit of analysis
of a firm is chosen.
11. In the economics literature, this approach has historically been referred to as the
"property rights approach" to economics (Furubotn and Pejovich 1972).
12. Sithole 1999.
13. Examples of key works that reflect this school of thought include Coase 1960, Alchian
and Demsetz 1973.
14. Kundhlande 2000.
15. Scott 1983, North 1990, Sethi and Somanathan 1996, Balland and Platteau 1998.
16. Wolf 1988.
17. Campbell et al. 2001.
18. Bruce et al. 1993, Kundhlande and Luckert 1998, Mandondo 1997, Nhira and Fortmann
1993, Sithole 1997, Clarke 1994.
19. Murphree 1993, Bruce and Fortmann 1988, Kundhlande and Luckert 1998, Sithole 1997.
20. Moyo et al. 1991.
21. Mandando 1997.
22. Kundhlande and Luckert 1998.
23. Mandando 1998.
24. Hegan 2000. In other regions some examples are found in agriculture in a developing
country context (e.g. Feder and Onchan 1987) and in forestry in a developed country
context (e.g. Zhang 1996). We also have a fair bit of theory and conjecture about how
individual characteristics of property rights affect behavior ceteris paribus. Haley and

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

82 I Luckert

Luckert (1990) provide a literature review of how a number of property right
characteristics, considered individually, may influence economic behavior.
25. A notable exception to this trend of investigating impacts of discrete types of property
rights are studies by Place (1995) that has begun to isolate out effects of individual
characteristics in a cross-sectional case study of agroforestry management practices in
several African countries. Futhermore, in a survey of two villages in Malawi, Hansen
(1997) was able to link differences in the transferability of property rights, as influenced
by inheritance and marriage patterns, to differences in tree planting behavior among
men and women.
26. Mutamba 1999, Luckert et al. 2000, Cavendish 1997.
27. Further investigations into risk preferences and household decisions are underway by
Chris Zindi, Department of Rural Economy, University of Alberta.
28. Sithole and Bradley 1995, Mangono 1994, Sithole 1999, Nemarundwe 2000.
29. For example, Luckert (1998) has developed theoretical models based on Monte Carlo
simulations to explore the incentives for forest management performance in Canada
provided by several characteristics of property rights, simultaneously.


Alchian, A. A. and Demsetz, Harold. "The Property Rights Paradigm." Journal of Economic
History 3, no.1 (1973):16-27.

Baland, J.M. and J.P. Platteau. "Division of the Commons: A Partial Assessment of the New
Institutional Economics of Land Rights" American Journal of Agriculture Economics 80 (1998):

Bromley, D. W. "Testing for Common versus Private Property: Comment." Journal of
Environmental Economics and Management 21 (1991): 92-96.

Bromley, D.W. Economic Interests and Institutions. Oxford: Blackwell, 1989.

Bruce, J. W. and L. Fortmann. Whose Trees? Proprietary Dimensions of Agroforestry. Colorado:
Westview Press, 1988.

Bruce, J., L. Fortman, and C. Nhira. "Tenures in Transition, Tenures in Conflict: Examples from
the Zimbabwe Social Forest." Rural Sociology 58 (1993): 626-642.

Campbell, B.M., de Jong, W., Luckert, M., Mandondo, A., Matose, F., Nemarundwe, N. and
Sithole, B. "Challenges to Proponents of CPR systems: Despairing Voices from the Social Forests
of Zimbabwe." World Development 29, no.4 (2001): 589-600.

Cavendish, W. The Economics of Natural Resource Utilisation by Communal Area Farmers of
Zimbabwe. Ph.D. thesis, University of Oxford, 1997.

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Can We Be Engineers of Property Rights to Natural Resources? I 83

Cheung, S. "The Structure of a Contract and the Theory of a Non-Exclusive Resource." Journal
of Law and Economics 13, no.1 (1970): 49-70.

Clarke, J. "Building on Indigenous Natural Resource Management: Forestry Practices in
Zimbabwe's Communal Lands." Forestry Commission, Harare, Zimbabwe, 1994.

Coase, R. "The Problem of Social Cost." Journal of Law and Economics 3 (1960): 1-44.

Dahlman, C. The Open Field System and Beyond: A Property Rights Analysis of an Economic
Institution. Cambridge University Press, 1980.

Dales J.H. Pollution Property and Prices. University of Toronto, 1968.

Dzuda. L. Adoption of Soil and Water Conservation Techniques in Zimbabwe: A Duration
Analysis. M.Sc. Thesis. Department of Rural Economy, University of Alberta, 2001.

Gibson. C., M. McKean, and E. Ostrum, eds. People and Forests: Communities, Institutions and
Governance. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2000.

Featherstone, M., S. Lash and R. Robertson, eds. Global Modernities. London: Sage Publications,

Feder, G. and T. Onchan. "Land Ownership Security and Farm Investment in Thailand."
American Journal of Agricultural Economics 69 (1987): 311-20.

Furubotn, E. and S. Pejovich. "Property Rights and Economic Theory: A Survey of Recent
Literature." Journal of Economic Literature 10 (1972): 1137-1162.

Haley, D. and M. K. Luckert. Forest Tenures in Canada: A Framework for Policy Analysis.
Ottawa: Forestry Canada, 1990.

Hansen, Jamie. Tree Planting under Customary Land and Tree Tenure Systems in Malawi: An
Investigation into the Importance of Marriage and Inheritance Patterns. MSc. Thesis.
Department of Rural Economy, University of Alberta, 1997.

Hatton MacDonald, D. Adamowicz, W.L. and M.K. Luckert. "Fuelwood Collection in
Northeastern Zimbabwe: Valuation and Caloric Expenditures." Journal of Forest Economics 7,
no.1 (2000): 29-52.

Hedden-Dunkhorst, B. "Estimating Smallholder's Risk Aversion: A Method to Improve Impact-
Analyses of Potential Innovations, An Example from Zimbabwe's Semi-Arid Areas," in Franz
Heidhues and Andrea Fadani, eds. Food Security and Innovations: Success and Lessons
Learned. Frankfurt: Peter Lang Verlag, 1997.

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84 I Luckert

Hegan. R.L. Is the Tragedy of the Commons Possible? Investigating Factors that Influence
Common Pool Fuelwood Rents in Zimbabwe. M.Sc. Thesis. Department of Rural Economy,
University of Alberta, 2000.

Kundhlande, G. and M.K. Luckert. "Towards an Analytical Framework for Assessing Property
Rights to Natural Resources: A Case Study in the Communal Areas of Zimbabwe." Department
of Rural Economy, Staff Paper, May 1998.

Kundhlande. G. Economic Behavior of Developing Country Farm-Households: Measures of
Rates of Time Preference, the Use of Cattle as Buffer Stocks, and the Endogenous Evolution of
Land Rights. Ph.D. Thesis. Department of Rural Economy. University of Alberta, 2000.

Luckert, M.K. "Efficiency Implications of Silvicultural Expenditures From Separating
Ownership and Management on Forest Lands". Forest Science 44, no.3 (1998):365-378.

Luckert, M.K., Wilson, J., Adamowicz, V. and A.B. Cunningham. "Household Resource
Allocations in Response to Risks and Returns in a Communal Area of Western Zimbabwe."
Ecological Economics 33 (2000): 383-394.

Mandando, A. "Institutional Framework for Community Natural Resource Management in
Zimbabwe." Harare: WWF Southern Africa Regional Programme Office, 1998.

Mandondo, A. "Trees and Spaces as Emotion and Norm-Laden Components of Local
Ecosystems in Nyamaropa Communal Land, Nyanga District, Zimbabwe." Agriculture and
Human Values 14 (1997): 353-372

Mangono, J.J. "Towards a National Biomass Energy Strategy for Zimbabwe: Some Suggestions
for a National Policy." Report by the Department of Energy Resources and Development and
the Ministry of Transport and Energy, Harare, Zimbabwe, 1994.

McKean. "Common Property: What is it, What is it good for, and What Makes it Work?" in
Gibson. C., M. McKean, and E. Ostrum, eds. People and Forests: Communities, Institutions and
Governance. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2000.

Moyo, S. Discrete Choice Analysis of the Feed Technology Decisions of Smallholder Dairy
Farmers in Zimbabwe. M.Sc. Thesis. Department of Rural Economy, University of Alberta, 2001.

Moyo, S., P. Robinson, Y. Katerere, S. Stevenson and D. Gumbo. Zimbabwe's Environmental
Dilemma: Balancing Resource Inequities. Harare: ZERO, 1991.

Murphree, M.W. "Communities as Resource Management Institutions." International Institute
for Environment and Development, London, 1993.

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Can We Be Engineers of Property Rights to Natural Resources? I 85

Mutamba. M. Household Resource Allocation in Agriculture Woodland Use in Chivi District:
Impact of Agricultural Commodity Prices on Woodland Resource Utilization in Zimbabwe's
Communal Areas. M.Sc. Thesis, Department of Agricultural Economics and Extension,
University of Zimbabwe, 1999.

Nemarundwe, N. "Boundaries in Woodland Use," 2000 (forthcoming).

Nhira, C. and L. Fortmann. "Local Control and Management of Forests and Environmental
Resources in Zimbabwe: Institutional Capacity." Background paper for the Zimbabwe Forest
Sector Review. Washington, D.C. World Bank Technical Paper 210 (1993): 139-155.

North, D.C. Institutions, Institutional Change and Economic Performance. Cambridge
University Press, 1990.

Norton, G.W. and J. Alwang. Introduction to Economics of Agricultural Development. New
York: McGraw Hill, 1993.

Ostrom, E. "The Rudiments of a Theory of the Origins, Survival and Performance of Common
Property Institutions," in Bromley, D., ed. Making the Commons Work. San Francisco:
International Center for Self Governance, 1992.

Ostrom, E. 1999. "Self Governance and Forest Resources." CIFOR Occasional Paper 20 (1999).
Bogor: Center for International Forestry Research.

Ostrum. E. Private and Common Property Rights. 2000 [online]

Place, F. "The Role of Land and Tree Tenure on the Adoption of Agroforestry Technologies in
Zambia, Burundi, Uganda, and Malawi: A Summary and Synthesis." Land Tenure Center.
University of Wisconsin-Madison, 1995.

Scott, A. D. "Property Rights and Property Wrongs." Canadian Journal of Economics. 16, no.4
(1983): 555-73.

Sethi R. and E. Somanathan. "The Evolution of Social Norms in Common Property Resource
Use." The American Economic Review 86 (1996): 766-788.

Sithole, B. Access to and Use of Dambos in Communal Areas of Zimbabwe: Institutional
Considerations. PhD Thesis, Centre for Applied Social Sciences, University of Zimbabwe, 1999.

Sithole, B. "The Institutional Framework for the Management and Use of Natural Resources in
Communal Areas of Zimbabwe: Village Cases of Access to and Use of Dambos from Mutoko
and Chiduku." Field Report to IDRC, CASS, University of Zimbabwe, 1997.

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Sithole, B. and P. N. Bradley. Institutional Conflicts over the Management of Communal
Resources in Zimbabwe. Stockholm: Stockholm Environmental Institute, 1995.

Wolf, C., Jr. Markets or Governments: Choosing between Imperfect Alternatives. Cambridge:
MIT Press, 1988.

Zhang. D. "Forest Tenures and Land Value in British Columbia." Journal of Forest Economics 2,
no.1 (1996): 7-30.

Reference Style: The following is the suggested format for referencing this article:
Luckert, M.K. "Can We Be Engineers of Property Rights to Natural Resources? Some Evidence
of Difficulties from the Rural Areas of Zimbabwe." African Studies Quarterly 5, no.3: [online]
URL: http://web.africa.ufl.edu/asq/v5/v5i3a5.htm

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

The Organizational Structures for Community-Based Natural

Resources Management in Southern Africa


Abstract:1Throughout Southern Africa there has been a move to decentralize natural
resource management (NRM). Decentralization has taken many forms, resulting in
different organizational structures for NRM. Fourteen case studies from eight countries
can be classed into four types, depending on the key organizations for NRM: (1) district-
level organizations; (2) village organizations supported by sectoral departments (e.g.
Village Forest Committees); (3) organizations or authorities outside the state hierarchy
(e.g. traditional authority, residents' associations), and (4) corporate organizations at the
village level (e.g. Trusts, conservancies, property associations). Attitudes towards
district-level schemes amongst local people are generally negative. The greater the
authority village organizations receive the more likely they are to succeed. In the cases
with corporate organizations, local residents have received user or proprietary rights
over resources. Such cases reflect the best chances of community-based natural resources
management (CBNRM) being successful. It is clear that polices that explicitly
decentralize authority to village-level organizations help to avoid some of the problems
that have emerged. The impact of private sector stakeholders can be positive or negative
depending on the institutional arrangements in place. Many of the cases have
demonstrated the key role that external facilitation plays in building the capacity of local
organizations. Traditional leaders have continued to play a role in NRM, with varying
degrees of authority and control. The paper ends with a discussion of the key features for
the success of CBNRM.


In recent years, coinciding with the mainstreaming of participatory approaches in
development theory and practice, there has been a policy shift to advocate that local resource
users play a more active role in the management of natural resources. 2 There has been
considerable progress in decentralizing authority over forests from the state to local

Bruce M. Campbell of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) has undertaken research in southern
Africa for 20 years, with recent work on issues at the interface of economics, sociology and ecology, including work
on ecological economics of rangeland management systems, systems perspectives on forestry co-management
arrangements, community-based natural resource management and common property management. Sheona
Shackleton is a natural resource management consultant affiliated to the Environmental Science Programme at
Rhodes University, Grahamstown, South Africa. Her current areas of research interest include natural resource
utilisation and valuation in communal lands; common property management and the institutional aspects of
community-based natural resource management (CBNRM); rural livelihood systems; and the commercialization and
marketing of non-timber forest products. She has worked throughout South Africa but has concentrated most of her
efforts in the savanna woodlands in the north of the country.

University of Florida Board of Trustees, a public corporation of the State of Florida; permission is hereby granted for individuals
to download articles for their own personal use. Published by the Center for African Studies, University of Florida.
ISSN: 2152-2448

88 I Campbell and Shackleton

communities in Asia, and there are now numerous examples within Africa. 3 Within the wildlife
sector there has been considerable activity in the last decade, especially in southern Africa,
where almost all countries have programs to allow communities to manage and benefit from
wildlife. 4 In Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, and Namibia, a wildlife management focus has
provided the major initiative for CBNRM. In South Africa, land restitution has been the major
driving force for more equitable and participatory forms of natural resource management. In
contrast, in Lesotho the need for more effective rangeland management provided the primary
impetus for CBNRM. In a few countries, such as Malawi and Tanzania, forestry has provided
the focus for decentralization.
Decentralization describes the process by which bundles of entrustments (e.g. regulatory
and executive powers, responsibility and authority in decision making) are transferred to local
groupings (e.g. local governments or communities). 5 Decentralization can occur through
devolution, in which case the entrustments are transferred more or less completely to the local
users. Devolution is often the mode of decentralization considered in this study, but the term
decentralization will be used throughout much of this article for purposes of consistency. In all,
the decentralization initiatives in the region, effort has been made to transfer at least some
responsibility and authority over natural resources from a central level to a lower level, whether
to local government, state aligned district organizations, and/or directly to communities
themselves. 6 This transfer of authority can manifest as the control of decision-making; the
control of income, expenditure, and benefits; the control of developments such as tourism
ventures; the transfer of ownership and property rights; and improved status amongst the
individuals and organizations involved. 7 It is therefore not surprising that decentralization is
frequently accompanied by competition for the benefits of the new authority. This may take
place between the organization receiving authority and existing organizations (e.g. between
traditional leaders and newly formed community-based organizations), or between the body
transferring the authority (usually the state) and the receiving authority, or it may emerge
amongst different actors within the community.
This paper analyses the organizational structures in case studies from southern Africa,
attempts to identify those organizations and tiers that are important in CBNRM, and derives a
typology of cases based on the organizational structures. The objectives of the study were to
determine the new loci of authority within different CBNRM approaches; to understand the
policies, systems, and contexts that define who asserts control and authority and under what
conditions; and then from this, to pinpoint the institutional arrangements and factors that
provide good opportunities for success in CBNRM. 8 By "success," we mean systems where
stakeholders, particularly local people, have a positive attitude towards CBNRM, and where
sustainability appears to have been achieved (though many systems are still in their infancy and
thus difficult to assess). The focus is on the formal organizations that have emerged in the
different countries and case studies.
Fourteen case studies were completed in eight southern African countries (see Figure 1).
Each covers a diversity of sectors (wildlife, range, and forest management) and involving both
co-management and common property arrangements (Table 1). Within a country, there is often
much diversity of CBNRM approaches and outcomes (e.g. Zimbabwe 9), so the case studies
cannot be seen as being representative of the particular countries from which they are

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Community-Based Natural Resources Management in Southern Africa I 89

drawn.Most case studies are based on specific donor initiatives, while others describe situations
without any project intervention. The case studies were based mainly on existing literature and
the direct experiences of the case study researchers, where necessary limited fieldwork was
applied to explore areas that were under-researched. Most of the case studies span the period
from initial implementation of the CBNRM project to the end of 1999 when the write-ups for
case studies were completed. 10 Each case study was structured using a common framework of
issues that would be covered. 11 The framework is presented in Figure 2. It indicates the key
issues that were considered to be important in determining success of NRM. We recognize that
processes and power relations within communities also have a profound impact on the success
or failure of CBNRM, particularly with regard to equity in decision-making and the distribution
of benefits. However, these aspects could not be dealt with in sufficient depth within the
confines of this paper, and instead we refer readers to the case study synthesis report. 12
Section 2 outlines the results of the preliminary data exploration using principal
components analysis. We then present a typology of the organizational structures that we
recognize, followed by a description of each type (Section 3). Section 4 looks at some of the
policy, commercial, and facilitation contexts that mould the organizational structure. The role of
traditional leaders in CBNRM is then examined (Section 5). We conclude with the key lessons
for successful CBNRM (Section 6).


As a data exploration tool, non-linear principal components analysis (PCA) was used to
assess the degree of correlation of variables and the relative similarity of cases. For each case, 12
variables were assessed. Each variable was given a ranking from 1 to 4 (for instance, "locus of
authority at the district level" was given a 4 when the district government was very important
in NRM, as for example in CAMPFIRE in Zimbabwe, and a 1 when it was not important, as for
example in Namibia). 13 Ranking obviously introduces a subjective element into the analysis.
The technique is used to explore variation and was used as a first step towards establishing a
typology of cases.

In the first PCA conducted (results not shown), the Fish River case study (from South Africa)
came out as peculiar. This is because it is the only case in which the locus of authority is with a
community organization, a residents' association, which is neither defined by any national
legislation nor part of the traditional system. In the subsequent analysis this case was deleted,
so as to fully allow the differentiation of the remaining cases.
For the next analysis the correlation of variables and similarity of cases is presented in
Figure 3 and Figure 4, respectively. 14 Close placement of variables in the scatter diagram
indicates positive correlation of those variables while distant placement indicates negative
correlation. Close placement of cases indicates similar cases while distant placement indicates
different cases. Figure 3 shows a grouping of correlated variables at the extreme right on the 1st
dimension. These include the following variables: (1) degree of authority residing with
community-based organizations (CBOs) with corporate status (i.e., they can sue and be sued,
hold property, enter into business contracts, etc.); (2) positive feelings by villagers towards
CBNRM; (3) degree of policy support to CBOs; (4) degree of support by NGOs; (5) degree of

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

90 I Campbell and Shackleton

support by sectoral departments (line ministries); (6) values of resources; and (7) proportion of
benefits returned to villagers. At the opposite end of the axis, i.e., negatively correlated with the
above-mentioned variables, are (1) degree of authority residing with village committees that are
not corporate organizations and (2) degree of authority residing with district-level
organizations. Figure 4 illustrates the cases that are associated with each end of this dimension.
The cases from Botswana, Namibia, and Makuleke are at the right extreme, while at the left
extreme are cases from Zimbabwe, Zambia, and Lesotho. The Malawi and Tanzania cases are
midway on the 1st dimension, illustrating their mixed nature, i.e., having positive support by
villagers but not dealing with high-value resources, and, in the case of Malawi, not having
village-level corporate organizations.
The 2nd dimension illustrates a different kind of variation in the data, relating to the
degree of authority over NRM residing with traditional leaders, with high levels at the bottom
of the 2nd dimension and low levels at the top end. Traditional leaders are the main source of
authority regarding natural resources in the Zimbabwe Chivi case, and are part of other
organizations in the cases of Makuleke, Namibia, Lesotho and Zambia. At the other extreme, we
have the Tanzania case where traditional leaders are all but absent from the decision-making
process for NRM.


3.1 The typology of cases

The CBNRM cases covered in this study can be classified into four main organizational
structures based on the organizations that wield the most authority, the degree of community
involvement, and the attitudes of community participants:

1. Cases where decentralization has resulted in district organizations being the new locus of
authority. These can be local government organizations, such as district councils (Zimbabwe
Sengwe case of CAMPFIRE), or multi-stakeholder, district organizations aligned to sectoral
departments (Zambia cases). In these cases the CBNRM agenda is driven by central state
authorities at a district level. There is little community involvement in planning or decision-
making, and a large percentage of the revenue is retained at district level. Consequently, people
on the ground rarely identify with these initiatives and few have a clear understanding of their
purpose and objectives. This paints a bleak picture for the future of CBNRM in these areas.

2. Cases where sectoral government departments support village committees at lower levels,
such as Village Natural Resource Management Committees in the Malawi case, which are
supported by the Forestry Department. Many of these committees appear relatively successful
as CBNRM organizations, provided they do not become elitist but remain accountable to the
community at large (mechanisms to ensure this need to be in place). Furthermore, the greater
the authority such committees receive and the more the state is willing to let go, the more likely
they are to succeed. Thus, in Malawi and Tanzania the committees, in consultation with the
community, can formulate their own by-laws, while the Resource Management Committees in
the Zimbabwe Gokwe case are weak and still largely controlled by the Forestry Commission.

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Community-Based Natural Resources Management in Southern Africa I 91

3. Cases where NRM at the lower level is largely based on organizations or authorities outside
of the state hierarchy. Within this category we have two very different kinds of cases, one based
on traditional leaders in the Zimbabwe Chivi case and one based on Residents Associations in
the South Africa Fish River case. In these cases, the lack of external support and the absence of
any clear policy and legal framework for CBNRM are limiting the achievement of sustainable

4. Cases where organizations consisting of community members themselves are the locus of
authority in some kind of corporate organization (Trusts, Conservancies, Associations as in the
cases in Botswana, Namibia, Makuleke and perhaps Lesotho, and Villages in the case of
Tanzania). In these cases local residents or resource users have received user or proprietary
rights over resources. This provides them with the authority, through their elected executives or
boards, to make rules, approve developments, enter in partnerships with the private sector,
receive revenues, and distribute benefits. Most to all of cash benefits are returned to the
community. Community-members are particularly behind the schemes in these cases, and in
some countries (e.g. Namibia) a demand-driven movement to establish further such CBNRM
initiatives is emerging. The level of interference by the state is less than in the preceding cases,
but it still retains ultimate authority and continues to make decisions that impact on the
CBNRM organizations. Recent developments in Namibia and Botswana illustrate this.

3.2 District control of CBNRM (e.g. Zimbabwe Sengwe and Zambia cases)

3.2.1 The organizational structures In all countries except Namibia, district organizations have a
role to play in NRM, a role that varies from pervasive (e.g. Zimbabwe and Zambia) to
facilitatory (e.g. Malawi). Namibia has no district organizations; its regional government has
little role in NRM at present although this may change with the government's new
decentralization policy. 15
Most district organizations for NRM, whether sponsored by local government or sectoral
departments, form the upper tier of a hierarchy of organizations that extend down to grassroots
level. This tiered arrangement is, theoretically, designed to enable community needs and
priorities to filter up into district-level planning processes. The reality is often the opposite, with
these organizations forming a channel through which decisions made at a higher level can
trickle down. In Zimbabwe the Rural District Councils (RDCs) are linked to Ward Development
Committees and Village Development Committees (VIDCOs). VIDCOs have little direct role in
resource management since this function has not been delegated down by the councils. The
District Councils in Zambia similarly link into lower tier organizations known as Ward
Development Committees and Resident Development Committees, but in terms of CBNRM,
these are superseded by the sectoral department organizations and are barely functional at the
village level.
In Sengwe all decisions over CAMPFIRE are made at district level, including those
concerning quotas, the granting of concessions, problem animal control, and rules regarding
wildlife utilization. Villagers from a Ward are represented by a single councillor at the district,
and he is only one of a number of councillors, many of whom may be from areas poor in

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92 I Campbell and Shackleton

wildlife and have little interest in CAMPFIRE apart from the revenue it generates. Furthermore,
many decisions are made by government officials at the district level rather than by councillors.
In Zambia, decisions relating to wildlife in Game Management Areas (GMAs) are made by
multi-stakeholder forums operating at district and sub-district level that report directly to the
wildlife department. These forums are the Wildlife Management Authority in the Mumbwa
GMA case and Local Leader's Committee in the Lupande GMA case. Along with chiefs, sub-
chiefs, members of parliament, wildlife department officials, and other representatives,
councillors from the district councils sit on these bodies creating a link to local government.
Community members are not represented in these organizations. Thus, there is virtually no
mechanism to cater for local people at village level and consequently the community is
sidelined and voiceless.

3.2.2 Benefit distribution and attitudes towards CBNRM

In Sengwe 50% of the total revenue from hunting leases (15% as a levy and 35% as a
management fee) is retained by the Rural District Councils. The remainder is channelled to the
community, often after inordinate delays. This is resented by the community who feel they
should receive a larger proportion of the funds generated, especially since they must bear the
costs of wildlife damage. A similar situation prevails in Zambia. In Mumbwa Game
Management Area (GMA) 35% of the income returns to the community for development
projects. Local leaders are primarily responsible for determining how these funds are spent, and
the development activities have tended to cluster around chiefs' palaces. Previously only 40% of
the income from Lupande GMA reached the community, but recent restructuring now sees
about 80% going directly to Village Action Groups.
Sentiments of community members towards CBNRM in the Zambian and Zimbabwean
cases are largely negative. There is discontent due to crop losses and other damage by wildlife,
lack of compensation mechanisms, the high proportion of revenue retained by the district, the
lack of consultation on issues such as fencing, a feeling "their" animals are being driven to other
areas to be hunted, the lack of communication with the private sector operator, and the
operation of law enforcement agents (e.g. village scouts). In many areas, local people perceive
the wildlife program as a donor and wildlife department initiative, rather than a community-
based program.

3.3 Village committees supported by sectoral departments (e.g. Malawi, Tanzania and
Zimbabwe Gokwe cases)

3.3.1 The organizational structures

A number of cases have a village-level committee (Village Natural Resource Management
Committees in Malawi, Village Forest Committees in Tanzania, and Resource Management
Committees in the Zimbabwe Gokwe case) as the primary CBNRM organizations. These
committees are supported by the forestry department, and are elected by the community. In
Malawi and Tanzania, the committees have a clear role in the management of forest areas,
woodlots, and reforestation programs. Their duties include making and enforcing rules on the

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Community-Based Natural Resources Management in Southern Africa I 93

conservation of state forests, regulating the utilization of forest products, planning fire patrols
and fire fighting, and collecting revenues. The committees in Gokwe play an intermediary role
between the forestry department and local people, brokering rules for accessing forest products
from the state forest and monitoring resource use in the village. Committees in Malawi and
Tanzania can play an active role in by-law formulation, unlike in Zimbabwe. In Tanzania,
village management plans and use rules are reframed as by-laws that are approved by the
District Council. All these committees are embedded within the local organizational system (e.g.
the committees in Malawi report to Village Development Committees VDCs) consisting of
members of the community and chaired by the village head. A group of VDCs then form the
Area Development Committee, chaired by a chief. Membership of this committee includes the
traditional leaders, government extension officers, members of parliament, NGOs, and elected
councillors. The next level up is the district level. In Gokwe, the Resource Management
Committees should report to Village Development Committees, but the latter are weak, leaving
the Resource Management Committees without much authority.
The role of the forestry department varies amongst case studies. In Malawi it has a
dominating presence in the Chimaliro case but, in Mangweru, mobilization for forest
management was largely driven by the community. The Village Forest Areas are under the
committees exclusively, but forest reserves on state land are jointly managed by the committees
and the state. In the latter case the state still makes most of the rules, monitors and enforces
resource use, and holds ultimate authority as the owner of the land. In Tanzania, the forestry
department has taken a very facilitative role, having almost no say in the workings of the
committees. In Zimbabwe, the forestry department has a dominating role, with very little
authority in the hands of the committee. The Tanzanian case is peculiar because villages in
Tanzania have corporate status and thus hold a good deal of authority. The Zimbabwe case is at
the other extreme with the committees having minimal authority and legitimacy. The Forestry
Commission controls most aspects of the "shared" resource.

3.3.2 Benefit distribution and attitudes towards CBNRM

In Mangweru, Malawi, the committee has full control of revenue (mainly from the sale of
poles, firewood, and timber). The committee has allocated this revenue for various community
development initiatives. The initiative and success shown by the community in Mangweru has
resulted in the Forestry Department maintaining a low profile and not demanding any share in
the benefits. In contrast, in Chimaliro the state takes a proportion of the benefits (70% for the
state forest and 20% for the village forest area). In Tanzania, almost all the benefits of permits to
collect forest produce and fines go to the village. The village also collects cattle and hut taxes,
and of these 60% remain with the village and 40% go to the District Council. The amounts of
money raised are not very high.
There are very positive attitudes towards CBNRM in Malawi and Tanzania, in contrast to
the Zimbabwe Gokwe case. In Malawi, the removal of restrictions on the use of the forest
reserve, free technical assistance, material assistance, and various capacity building sessions
have given rise to positive community attitudes. There was, however, a general dissatisfaction
with delays in formally ratifying the regulations drawn up by the community and a general
perception that some influential members of the community received more than a fair share of

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94 I Campbell and Shackleton

the benefits. In the Tanzanian case, there is considerable pride in the improved forest quality
that has resulted from the committee's efforts. In the Gokwe case, the CBNRM scheme is not
viewed favourably. In some areas, villagers viewed the committees with suspicion, as possible
spies for the state. Many residents in the villages regard the state forest as theirs and are
unanimous in their view that the forest should be returned to village ownership and control.

3.4 Control residing in organizations and authorities outside the state hierarchy (e.g. South
Africa Fish River and Zimbabwe Chivi cases)

3.4.1 The organizational structures

Of all the cases, the Fish River case study is exceptional because the primary organizations
for CBNRM are civil society organizations known as Residents' Associations, which are aligned
to the major political party in South Africa. These have evolved and subsumed the
responsibilities of traditional leaders without any intervention from the state. Their lack of legal
status is undermining their effectiveness in enforcing rules.
The legislation in Zimbabwe gives authority over NRM to the District Council. However,
this authority may or may not be exercised. Where high value wildlife and timber are
concerned, the council makes sure it has the sector under its control (e.g. CAMPFIRE in
Sengwe). Where high value resources are not present, as in Chivi, the workings of the council
are all but absent at the local level, and de facto NRM rests with the village traditional leaders,
even though they do not have the legal mandate.

3.4.2 Benefit distribution and attitudes towards CBNRM

There are few commercial benefits in these cases. The resources are largely used for
subsistence purposes, and management tends to be somewhat ad hoc and ineffective from a
resource sustainability perspective. In the Fish River case study, local people feel powerless to
stop the incursions of neighbors into their areas for resources. Traditional leaders in Chivi are
critical of the District Council because it fails to support their efforts.

3.5 Corporate organizations at village level (e.g. Botswana, Namibia, South Africa-Makuleke,
Lesotho, and Tanzania cases)

3.5.1 The organizational structures

In Botswana, Namibia, and Makuleke there are corporate organizations formed by all
residents or rights holders within a designated area (sometimes spanning several villages).
These Trusts, Conservancies, or Communal Property Associations, respectively, elect their own
management committees and are governed by legally-recognized constitutions. Membership,
physical boundaries, and accountability mechanisms must be defined by the constitutions.
These organizations have the authority to make rules, approve developments, to enter into
partnership with the private sector, receive revenues, and decide on benefit allocations. Grazing
Associations in Lesotho can also be classed in this section, as users are allocated grazing rights

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Community-Based Natural Resources Management in Southern Africa I 95

in Range Management Areas. The Tanzanian case can also be classified here as villages enjoy a
peculiar legal status because they can sue, be sued, and hold property.
By way of example we describe the Namibian case. The elected management organization
is the Conservancy Management Committee. This committee makes decisions about day-to-day
administration, but major decisions such as expenditure on capital items are made in
consultation with all conservancy members through an AGM or special meeting. Rules are
developed through the committee and traditional leaders in consultation with residents in each
conservancy. These rules are then included in a NRM plan. In some conservancies, anti-
poaching units formed by the traditional leaders and committees enforce these rules. Local
government councillors have no official role in conservancies, but often assist in their formation
as a means of developing their constituencies. Once a conservancy is established it receives
conditional ownership over huntable game, use rights over other species through a permit
system, and the right to benefit from tourism and hunting activities. It can also register as a
hunting farm to gain rights to trophy hunting, although in this case quotas are set by the state in
consultation with the conservancies.
Although these corporate organizations are provided with a fair degree of autonomy by
legislation, the state (particularly at a central level) continues to assert its control in a variety of
ways. Sometimes its role may be as pervasive as in the previous organizations described, albeit
less institutionalized at various levels. In Botswana, the Department of Local Government
recently issued a directive (to be implemented with immediate effect), which instructed that all
funds earned by CBNRM projects must now be transferred to the District Councils for
management by them. This has caused an outcry amongst the CBNRM community in
Botswana, as it is seen as a serious threat to the long-term sustainability of these projects. 16 The
previous discussions on the Zimbabwean situation support this assertion. Other surprise
announcements by the Botswana government included a ban on lion hunting and a dramatic
increase in game license fees. In neither case were the wildlife management trusts consulted.
Recent work by Corbett and Jones (2000) in Namibia questions the gap between
conservancy policy and legislation, and its interpretation and implementation. They talk about
"aborted devolution": a situation in which "governments have introduced policy and
legislation with the intent of devolving authority over natural resources to local communities,
but in practice this devolution is not taking place." They argue that in these situations
communities will soon recognize that the reality does not match the promises made by
government. Consequently, they will revert to their old ways of viewing wildlife as state
property and return to poaching. Some of the problems identified in Namibia include: (1)
wildlife quotas set by government rather than conservancies; (2) the renewal of tourism and
hunting concessions with the private sector, within conservancy areas, is enacted by
government rather than the conservancies; (3) governments demand that conservancies acquire
permits for huntable game, this is in contrast to the situation on private farms; (4) government
refusal to allow conservancies to make decisions about how to deal with problem animals.
In South Africa, the Makuleke community successfully regained ownership of land in
Kruger National Park from which they had been removed. However, the community had to
agree that the land would continue to be a protected area managed by the South African
National Parks Board. Land title and all commercial rights were transferred to the Makuleke,

African Studies Quarterly I Volume 5, Issue 3 I Fall 2001

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