The paper looks at the relationships between people and parks in Zimbabwe and at the issue of land ownership in particular. The author argues that land dispossession and displacement of populations were central to Zimbabwe's colonial history, especially in the context of the establishment of commercial farms and protected areas. He describes how the establishment of many of the country's parks required forced removal of local communities and curtailment of their access to the resources within the area, and points out that this history continues to influence people's perceptions of wildlife, protected areas and tourism to this day. He examines what has happened to the people whose ancestors were evicted from their homelands not so long ago, and their livelihoods on the margins of park lands.
The paper attempts to explain the history and nature of this situation, as well as a recent endeavour at reconciliation between people and parks in Zimbabwe. The first section looks at the era of colonial dispossession and the early roots of antagonism, and the second section discusses the resources lost to and opportunity costs suffered by local communities when commercial farms were created. Section III discusses the growth of tourism in the country and the importance of wildlife to its international appeal. The experiences of other countries are included to highlight the kinds of problems associated with tourism growth that Zimbabwe has both encountered and managed to avoid.
As in other developing countries, the establishment of parks and reserves in Zimbabwe has brought local communities into conflict with park management. In addition to the alienation of their land, adjacent communities tend to suffer extensive crop damage from marauding animals. Revenue from tourism tends to flow into the central treasury and local people receive little compensation, if any, for destruction of their crops. Nor do they have access to park resources such as meat, grazing areas, wood or other products. The author points out that under these conditions, it is little wonder that poaching of wildlife and destruction of park fences have become increasingly common.
Realizing that this hostility towards protected areas could lead to their destruction, either through poaching of animals or growing popular pressure to have them converted to agriculture, the government of Zimbabwe — through its Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management — along with the University of Zimbabwe, the NGO Zimbabwe Trust and WWF, began a programme to return some of the benefits of wildlife, parks and tourism to local communities. Section IV of the paper discusses how the CAMPFIRE programme, which began in the mid-1980s, has attempted to build institutional and managerial capacity at the local level. The nature of CAMPFIRE projects has varied, but most of them have earned the bulk of their revenues from game hunting and safari operations. Several have also begun to explore the financial viability of other tourism-based activities such as photographic safaris, walking trails, canoe safaris and pony trekking.
The final section of the paper argues, however, that if traditional hostility towards park areas is to change into unqualified support, the CAMPFIRE initiative has still to make a significant step. Occasional access to benefits does not imply real ownership and management by communities of park lands. Until such proprietorship becomes reality, local communities will not develop the full range of responsible practices that are necessary to ensure the survival of these areas as wildlife reserves, nor will the potential benefits of wildlife and tourism be clear to them. The government has not gone far enough to devolve responsibility beyond the district level, which for many communities is too remote and abstract. The author argues that authority over and ownership of park resources needs to be handed down to village level if CAMPFIRE's aim of turning former poachers into gamekeepers is to succeed.