When Parks Encroach Upon People: Expanding National Parks in the Rusitu Valley, Zimbabwe


When Parks Encroach Upon People: Expanding National Parks in the Rusitu. Valley, Zimbabwe

It is all too easy to overlook uncomfortable facts about many people-park conflicts. The usual, discreet account of a dispute proceeds as follows: residents have lived in and used resources from a given area for generations. Relative newcomers, as smallholder farmers, also may depend absolutely upon the products of a landscape. States will frequently cite exactly these extractive activities as reason for conserving an area and, consequently, for evicting residents. When those residents refuse to leave, a "conflict" arises. This is the conventional scenario of a clash between conservation and agricultural livelihood (or development). Further, an analysis of such a conflict often neglects the historical pre-conditions of the contemporary disagreement. It fails to ask or answer the questions: What has produced the scarcity of land, forest or animals that now brings preservation and human use into competition? Why is it that poor rural people so often live in close proximity with biodiversity whereas rural elites do not?

By obfuscating these issues, environmentalist claims many become a means of safeguarding the land of the rich. Advocates of protected areas seldom propose displacing affluent people. First, rural elites hold titles to their land so governments have greater difficulty - but not insurmountable difficulty - in taking that land from them. The small holder farmers mentioned above, however, live under a legal regime of "communal tenure." States construe their land as informal, loosely controlled common property - whether or not it actually is such. "Communal farmers," therefore, are permitted no individual or group titles or other mechanism of securing the land they farm. To policy-makers it seems more logical and feasible to convert a putative local commons into a nebulous global commons, or national park, than to alienate the family assets of wealthy landowners. Another reason that conservationists spare these larger much more degraded than the local commons. Rural elites have become wealthy precisely by converting their landscapes for permanent and intensive industrial, agricultural or silvicultural enterprises. Smallholders, on the other hand, frequently lack the economic means and cultural inclination to destroy land forms and biodiversity in their midst. It is because of these preserved flora and fauna that conservationists most frequently target communally held landscapes for national parks. Ultimately - as a not-so-conventional account would indicate - the people-park conflict arises because poor people do not wish to sacrifice their land to remedy previous and ongoing environmental abuse by the affluent.

This article examines that history of people-park conflicts in the Rusitu River Valley of Chimanimani District, Zimbabwe. It draws attention to the colonial-era dispossession of African small-holder farmers and the conversion of their landscapes into industrial forests or agricultural plantations as generative causes of today's environmental disputes. Thus, this article asks people in the fields of conservation and development in Zimbabwe and elsewhere to consider environmental conflicts more historically and to attempt to resolve them much more imaginatively. Fallacies of stakeholder analysis and joint management

Many of the conventional approaches to conventionally envisioned conflicts begin with stakeholder analysis and end with joint management. Stakeholder analysis seeks to replace simplistic models of a face-off between residents and park rangers. This method considers the interests of all the actors who have a concern, need or right regarding a given landscape. Such stakeholders range from resident small holders to larger landowners, conservation agencies, tourist or timber firms and, ultimately, to the tourists and consumers of timber. This inclusivity is taken to be the strength of stakeholder analysis, but it is also a central weakness. Without necessarily intending to, stakeholder analysis implies a misleading sense of equality between the "stakeholders." The needs and rights of tourism firms, for example, appear to be comparable to those of resident communities. In real situations, the residents' stake is often basic subsistence and adequate nutrition. Private firms need only worry about an increment of their profits. Not only does stakeholder analysis disguise these differences in the scale of opposing stakes, it also ignores the ways in which nonresident parties got their stakes in the first place. Tourism and timber harvesting often take place precisely in those areas from which previous residents have been expelled. Thus, stakeholder analysis may construe a foothold secured through force as a legitimate claim on resources, or a "stake."

Proceeding from this type of analysis, joint management attempts to harmonize the various stakes. Under joint or cooperative management, bodies composed of residents, private entrepreneurs and government agencies administer a park or protected area. Although this arrangement is intended to empower the residents, it more frequently locks them into an inferior, minority position. At best, representatives of resident communities have an equal place at the table. Local representatives seldom wield formal veto power in a joint management authority. On the contrary, the majority of stakeholders may frequently overrule these local representatives on questions directly relevant to inhabitants' livelihood. Joint management and other attempts at consensus may actually give outside parties (private firms and government agencies) the ability to thwart local inhabitants' plans for the use of resources. Moreover, joint management narrows the scope of environmental debate: residents and outsiders negotiate only over the given protected area; larger questions of land alienation and land scarcity are outside this agenda. Yet, in many places these inequities perpetuate the conflicts that joint management attempts to mediate. The politics of land in the Rusitu Valley, 1890S-1990S

Prior to the arrival of settlers in the 1890s, the Ngorima lineage of chiefs governed a broad stretch of country encompassing the Rusitu Valley and the adjoining Chimanimani uplands. Chief Ngorima ruled his Ndau-speaking subjects (Ndau is a dialect of Shona) through territorially based headmen to whom he often was related by marriage. (The British terms "chief" and "headman" are used here for convenience and comparability.) Headmen were responsible for adjudicating disputes within their jurisdictions and for allocating land to newcomers. They took intractable cases to the Chief and paid tribute regularly to him. Chiefs and headmen were thus in some sense stewards of the land and natural resources. As one resident declared, "Mambo Ngorima ndiye muridzi wenyika;" "Chief Ngorima is the one who is the owner of the land." In terms of usufruct and access, lineage and/or nuclear families controlled the fields they farmed and, to a certain extent, the fallows as well. The remaining, uncultivated countryside was considered common access, although chiefs and headmen could impose ritual prohibitions on foraging activities.

The entry of settlers sponsored by the mercantile British South Africa Company did not immediately alter the institutions of chieftaincy. For most of the colonial period, Rhodesia took land and labor from African residents but sought to preserve their administrative and land tenure systems as vehicles of indirect rule. Thus, the first wave of migrants from the Orange Free State in 1983 did not conquer and administer the Chimanimani uplands. They simply pegged off the best farmland in 2600 ha. plots. "In fact," the district Native Commissioner wrote some years later, "the very spots where the Natives were most thickly situated were, to a great extent, selected as farms." This competition was not surprising: first, both groups desired the most fertile soil; second, through a practice known as "kaffir farming," settlers demanded work days from Africans living on "their" land. Finally, settlers assumed erroneously that small holders had not invested in any particular parcel and could be moved arbitrarily across an undifferentiated commons. By 1908, the Chimanimani uplands within Ngorima's domain had become European and Afrikaner estates.

In the next few decades, the owners of these farms pushed Chief Ngorima's people and, eventually, Chief Ngorima himself into the Rusitu Valley. Meanwhile, the District Commissioner had set aside roughly 12,500 ha. in the Rusitu and Haroni watersheds as Ngorima Tribal Trust Land. Since the Haroni drains the Chimanimani Mountains, less than half of this native reserve was arable. The fertile Rusitu Valley soon began to fill up with Africans either evicted or compelled to leave their homes by onerous labor requirements. Chief Ngorima and his immediate family remained as long as they could on the Tilbury estate tending the graves of their ancestors at a place called "Jiho." In 1956, the owner of Tilbury finally sent Ngorima off the estate. Jiho, where Ngorima still performs annual rituals, remains a tiny, protected enclave amid uniform gum tree and pine plantations largely owned by the Border Timbers company and the parastatal Forestry Commission. Thus, these settlers (and those to whom they bequeathed or sold land) depopulated the Chimanimani highlands of its historic inhabitants and obliterated its native, high altitude forest and grassland.

This process of land alienation clearly had nothing to do with conservation. However, conservation did motivate a second dispossession, this time within the Rusitu Valley. The valley's low elevation combined with Zimbabwe's highest annual rainfall (up to 1600 mm) allows a type of forest, dominated by the hardwoods Newtonia buchananii and Khaya nyasica, to grow there which is found almost nowhere else in Zimbabwe. For as long as records have been kept, there have been three patches of this moist lowland forest in the valley: the Makurupini, Haroni and Lusitu Forests. Sometime in the 1960s - the exact date is unclear for reasons that will be explained later - the northeastern arm of Ngorima Tribal Trust Land was registered as national park land. This Chimanimani National Park, which had been created further north roughly 15 years previously, was extended southward to enclose the Haroni watershed and the Makurupini Forest. In 1974, the last of these park additions took place. The Lusitu and Haroni forests became the Rusitu and Haroni Botanical Reserves (20 and 150 ha., respectively, with only 80 ha. of the latter reserve forested).

In each of these three expansions - Chimanimani National Park and the two botanical reserves - parks encroached upon Chief Ngorima's people. In every case, the Parks Board treated the borders of Chief Ngorima's untitled, "communal land" as fungible. Chimanimani National Park annexed an inhabited, arable section of the Chisengu River Valley called "Mukwiratunhu." Likewise, the botanical reserves encompassed more land than simply the forested zones. People's fields and homesteads were suddenly inside the National Parks' estate. In other words, through the parks' encroachment, these residents became de jure squatters on park land. Compromise and impasse over Rusitu Parks

Zimbabwe's war of independence suspended enforcement in the parks until the installation of the new government in 1980. In the years since, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management has acted as if the sequence of intrusion were the reverse of that just described. In the words of one Parks officer, "The Haroni-Lusitu forests are under severe threat from human activities and encroachment." Hence, scouts have used intimidation and even violence to discourage hunting, collecting and farming in these areas. A number of residents allege that they were physically abused and/or arrested in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1993, the Department evicted residents of the Mukwiratunhu section of the Chimanimani National Park. In 1994, National Parks laid boundary beacons around the Rusitu Botanical Reserve. Since some of these markers fell within cultivated fields, landholders feared they too would soon face eviction. No one has been removed from the botanical reserves, but in early 1995 scouts again issued warning notices to a new set of Mukwiratunhu residents One of these scouts worried that "Upfumi hwese hweZimbabwe huchapera nemunhu 1 anoda kurima;" "All the wealth of Zimbabwe will be exhausted by one person who wants to farm." At higher levels, the Department of National Parks has concurred in that these regulations, if not always these tactics, are necessary for the preservation of Zimbabwe's natural heritage.

Inhabitants of the Rusitu Valley hold quite different views on both Mukwiratunhu and the botanical reserves. Mukwiratunhu, they assert, is their land and they blame the present, post-Independence government for confiscating it from them. Referring to the southward expansion of Chimanimani National Park, one resident accused, "Muganhu wakatorwa nemakamba;" "The border was taken by the Heroes [of the Liberation War'." More sarcastically, "Vanhu vasina pokugara vanosununguka chii?" "In what way have those without a place to live been liberated?" In fact, the Rhodesian regime - not Zimbabwe's government - moved the park boundary, but it seems that National Parks did not indicate the new demarcation until after Independence. Thus, local people fault the current government which, in any case, has striven to implement the Rhodesian decree. To further complicate matters, many staff at the Department of National Parks are unaware that the Chimanimani Park was ever expanded. Despite historical maps that prove otherwise, they believe that the present boundaries are those first established in the 1950s, and this conviction guides their drive to expel "squatters."

Like those in Mukwiratunhu, the "squatters" within Rusitu and Haroni Botanical Reserves assert that the land is theirs. In addition and as distinct from Mukwiratunhu, these people claim that the residents - not the Department of National Parks - have been and are conserving the forests. As one "squatter" protested, "National Parks akasvika miti iripo. Hapana zvaanoziva pamusoro pemiti.... National Parks akauya nechikafu chekupa kuneshiri dziri muNyakwawa. Asi shiri dziri kudya chikafu changu. Saka shiri ndedzangu." "When National Parks arrived, the trees were already there. There is nothing that they known about trees.... National Parks came with food to give to the birds in the Nyakwawa forest. But the birds are eating my food. Therefore, the birds are mine." Without doubt, farmers have spared, from cultivation core, common areas within the reserves: according to National Parks' estimates, 5 ha. in Haroni and 50-60 ha. in Rusitu (as well as virtually the entire 170 ha. Mukurupini Forest). National Parks presumes that these relics will soon suffer deforestation as more people and more hoes arrive. In fact, the settlement of migrants has not infringed upon these forests. Headmen have allocated land to these people elsewhere, particularly in Mukwiratunhu. These leaders and other residents consider these two forests to be sacred burial grounds of ancestral chiefs. Nyakwawa, as the sacred portion of the Rusitu Reserve is known, holds the spirits of aboriginal people who predate Chief Ngorima's arrival in the 17th or 18th century. Since at least that time, the lineage of headmen who descend from those people has carried out ceremonies in the forest, and the present headman has managed agricultural allotments so as to conserve the forest.

Officers in the Department of National Parks have begun to accept the logic and inevitability of this local management. In the past two years, National Parks and a committee of Rusitu inhabitants have undertaken direct and indirect negotiations over the management of the botanical reserves. As of mid-1995, they were hoping to reach a compromise wherein this committee would manage the reserves; that is, govern human activities within their boundaries on behalf of National Parks, and collect gate fees and other tourist revenues. Unfortunately, administrative changes at National Parks have interrupted the negotiations. On Mukwiratunhu, there has been no progress at all. One possible compromise would be to excise Mukwiratunhu from the Chimanimani National Park and, in compensation, to annex the Chisengu Valley inside the adjoining Hayfield B estate. Unlike all the surrounding private land, Hayfield B contains indigenous forest. In fact, there is more middle altitude woodland there than in Mukwiratunhu. Although the Government of Zimbabwe has the authority to designate such private land for protected status, neither this proposal nor any other for Mukwiratunhu has received serious consideration. Conservation and development: a false dichotomy for different reasons

The compromise over the reserves, in contrast with the impasse over Mukwiratunhu, is indicative of Zimbabwe's current approach to conservation and development. In the reserves, the protagonists are reconciling conservation with development: the proposed agreement would protect the core of the forest while allowing residents to continue existing economic activities. The income from tourism should encourage residents further to safeguard the forest. (This is the rationale of Zimbabwe's well known CAMPFIRE program in wildlife management and poaching mitigation.) In common with many similar cases worldwide, this instance of "sustainable development" achieves the objectives of biodiversity conservation while promoting local livelihoods. To a small extent, it also redresses the alienation of land from Rusitu Valley residents. If the proposal is implemented, residents will regain legal access to the reserves and will cease to be squatters.

Compromise over Mukwiratunhu is more difficult because it would involve both phases of land alienation, that enacted by National Parks and the earlier land-grabbing by settlers. National Parks confiscated land within Ngorima Tribal Trust Land because the remaining indigenous forests, a sacred local commons, were there. One might ask, "Why is indigenous woodland found almost nowhere on the adjacent plateau?" It can be recalled that European and Afrikaner settlers had cleared the upland they took from Ngorima and planted it with pines and gum trees. In this fashion, they developed a timber industry. They also created demographic and ecological conditions in which virtually all native woodland lies in the vicinity of African small holders, people whose parents and grandparents they once dispossessed. Yet, the bulk of conservationists (who rarely address the foregoing question) have blamed Rusitu residents, not settlers, for destroying forest. These agencies have sought to retard agricultural expansion and development, by supporting sustainable development, in the small areas remaining to Chief Ngorima's people. Now they are reluctant, if not totally unwilling, to consider releasing from conservation some of Ngorima's land and placing under conservation a tiny remnant of forest on alienated estate land. This modification would shift the cost of conservation from poor people who have borne it all along to a wealthier stratum that has, thus far, borne no costs at all.

In this case, as in many others in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, the thorny issue is not conservation versus development, but development versus development. Whose development and whose livelihood will suffer as a consequence of conservation? The conflict, then, lies between those who wish to capitalize on their seizure of land and biodiversity and those who, by virtue of their poverty and religious belief, have had neither the means nor the desire to convert their landscapes. The resolution of this conflict will require conservationists to undertake a process long overdue: to rethink the distribution of land, economic rights and ecological responsibilities in and around protected areas and on a national scale. Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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