The last two decades of the twentieth century saw the emergence of new strategies for natural resource management throughout the southern African region. There has been a clear shift from the centralised and state-driven natural resource management regimes of the colonial period and the immediate post-independence years towards decentralised and mainly community-based management regimes. This approach is clearly articulated in theories of collective action and Common Property Resource Management (CPRM), in which the focus has been on getting the institutions right. Theories of collective manage ment of water resources concentrate on productive irrigation water, thereby reinforcing notions of economic motivations for collective action. In this article, we discuss both individual and collective institutional arrangements for managing water resources, focusing on a case study area in southern Zimbabwe. Many rules governing water resource use are implicit or unwritten, rather than explicit and written. In most cases, these institutional arrangements allow conditional access based on appropriate use. Water is used for many purposes and the rules differ according to the type of use. Priority is given to cleanliness around the water sources, particularly where drinking water is concerned. This is key to determining who has access to water sources, especially those that are privately owned. The study shows that there is general compliance and minimal conflict over water use despite the lack of written rules, and regardless of the shift in boundaries of use during times of stress, such as during the dry season or in drought years.
Journal of Southern African Studies (2003) 29 (1) 193- 206