Managing a Commons: Community Management of Indigenous Woodlands in Chimanimani District, Zimbabwe
“Mass starvation stalking Africans.” This newspaper headline not only sets the context of my field work which took place at the tail end of the country’s worst drought in living memory; the headline also embodies a set of assumptions about the inability of Africans to effectively manage their resources. The thesis challenges the assumptions of African small-holder incompetence by detailing the complexity of local knowledge and management practices with respect to woodland resources in Zimbabwe. The thesis also locates local practices in their wider historical and political context in order to understand the forces that support and erode local control over resources. After setting up this problematic, I describe the research process, main research questions and introduce Common Property theory.
Ch.2 Setting the Social and Historical Context
In this chapter I establish the wider national and regional context in which social processes in the study area (Gudyanga) can be understood. Historical events and processes that have played a role in shaping local identity are reviewed. Following this, the chapter looks at the role of the colonial and post-colonial states in shaping local land management practices. National legislation affecting tree use in the Communal Areas, formerly the African Reserves, is reviewed.
Ch.3 Putting Gudyanga on the Map
In this chapter I present a more detailed picture of the study site itself. Here we see in greater detail where Gudyanga fits within the broader social context outlined in the previous chapter. This specificity enables me to better understand the nature of resource management practices and institutions, the subject of the next chapter. The chapter begins with a description of the resource base and economic practices in the study area then reviews relations between local peoples and state agencies overseeing local administration and development activities. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the local social undercurrents which inform public discourse and, ultimately, resource use and management.
Ch.4 Woodland Use and Management Practices in Gudyanga
In this chapter I present an overview of tree use practices in Gudyanga. The first objective of this chapter is to detail the very important role trees play in the daily lives of people who reside in the study area. In fact, much can be learned about everyday life through an examination of tree use. The second objective of this chapter is to discuss the nature of management practices and institutions that regulated access to and use of trees in the study area. Here I will be largely descriptive. Discussion of how local management processes can be situated within a political economy of control over resources is reserved for chapter five.
Ch.5 Political Control of Land and Resources in Gudyanga
Four key principles of woodlands management in the study area were noted:
An informal sense of reasonable use was central in structuring household use of trees and tended to limit wasteful practices.
An absence of clear tenure boundaries was found with respect to the daily gathering of household wood and other woodland products.
Vested interests in land were in a vague and uneasy balance whereby individual households, traditional leaders and state agencies all exerted a measure of control over how local woodlands were used.
Woodlands were an integral part of a larger land management system centred on arable land in which users were in theory not permitted to transfer use rights to outsiders.
To speak of a woodlands management system in itself is therefore misleading. There were woodlands management practices but these do not constitute a separate management system set apart from the management of other resources. A key feature of woodlands management in Gudyanga was the regulation of relative proportions of land held communally, principally woodlands, and land effectively held by households, principally fields and homesites.
Ch.6 Contributions to the Study of Commons Management
In this chapter I expand upon the implications of this research in Zimbabwe for the study of commons management. The first half addresses the apparent contradiction between two features of local land management:
1) the local value attached to traditional authorities in the administration of resources; and,
2) the marked expansion of those administrative powers in the colonial period.
Contrary to the view that the commons aspects of local woodlands management in the current era are an “invention of tradition” I argue they are a response to the changing political economy of the colonial state — the changes in land management can be seen as an indigenous response to land alienation in the early colonial period. The thesis also addresses an important contradiction within the term “common property” – the word “common” implying an inclusive interest and the word “property” an exclusive interest. Corporate or exclusive control of land was only exercised with respect to arable and residential land and even this was not “ownership” as such. Woodlands management in the study area resembled Gluckman’s observation that Rotse law specified “not so much the rights of persons over things as the duties between persons in respect of things.” I conclude that while woodlands in Gudyanga were clearly managed as a commons, they were not held as property.
Ch.7 Resource Management Planning and the Need for Greater Local Control of Resources
In the colonial era a negative view of indigenous land management strategies served to justify European expulsion of Africans from the land and the liquidation of woodlands and forest to meet the needs of the settler economy. The alarm over land degradation in the Communal Lands continues to be a basis for crisis management (ie. short term, interventionist solutions) in the present. Here I review two national land-use planning assumptions that serve to prevent the realization of local control over land management: 1) the assumption that each resource type (woodland, woodlot, arable, irrigated, grazing, residential) be spatially segregated and subject to only one land use; 2) the static, macro-ecological model of Natural Regions which is used as a basis for determining land-use capability. Fully 74% of the land in the Communal Areas is classified as “not suitable for crop production” and yet people survive in these regions, in part, through the maintenance of multiple and overlapping tenure principles that provide for multiple use of resources.
I conclude the thesis by asserting that the true “tragedy of the commons” has been the history of the (post)colonial state dismantling the complex of commons systems on which rural Africans depend.