National Policy


National Environmental Policy

Zimbabwe's National Environmental Policy is closely linked to its overal development policy and plans. Although this development model has been considered relatively successful, much of the country's natural resource base is being threatened by human activities. The present distribution of population, which is legacy from the colonial era, has had major environmental consequences. Large scale commercial farmers occupy most of the fertile highlands, while the majority of the population lives in the less productive communal areas. The communal lands, which encompass almost half of the country's land area, suffer from severe environmental degradation.

The country is relatively well endowed with natural resources (forest, agricultural lands, livestock, water resources, wildlife and minerals). The problems associated with the management of these resources are common to many African countries, for instance overgrazing, deforestation and soil erosion. Environmental degradation in the communal and resettled areas is a result of an increasing land shortage and poor management practices combined with a land tenure system which promotes overgrazing.Zimbabwe has a well developed and diversified industrial sector, but particularly the mining sector has damaged the environment. The unregulated establishment of mines has created large waste dumps, and runoff from these has contaminated soil and water bodies. Further, migration from the rural areas to the urban centres has led to overcrowding, but in contrast toother countries in the region, urban sanitation is adequate.

In many respects, Zimbabwe is one of the leading countries in Africa in terms of work on the environment. This for example is reflected in the economically important wildlife sector. Although some species are endangered due to habitat destruction, the country's rich wildlife resources have been well managed. A number of innovations, which hav epromoted sustainable utilisation of wildlife, could serve as a model for other countries. Environmentally sensitive areas have been designed and gazetted as national parks and forest reserves. However, the resource base in the communal and resettled areas are threatened, and the government recognises the need to introduce a more systematic approach to land resettlement. Environmental awareness is generally high, and a number of legislative acts deal with the need to protect the resource base. There is no lack of environmental legislation per se, but existing regulations are fragmented and difficult to enforce. This is also reflected in the large number of ministries responsible for enforcing environmental legislation. The National Response Conference to the Rio Earth Summit convened in Harare in late 1992 presented an elaborate set of future priorities. Building upon the National Conservation Strategy of 1987, the government is planning to develop a comprehensive Action Plan for the Environment.

Environmental Legislation and Institutions The environmental legislation of Zimbabwe will be examined in this chapter followed by a discussion of the main institutions that are responsible for its implementation. Environmental institutions have been broadly defined in this context, to include local institutions and NGOs in cases where these play an important role in envirnmental work.

The most important peice of legislation is the Natural Resources Act whose main objective is to control the use of resources. However, it cannot be applied in the communal areas which cover about half of the totalland area of Zimbabwe, since it is enforced via legal title to land. The land tenure system in the communal areas is based upon traditional usufruct rights, which makes the act ineffective in areas where it is needed the most. A number of other acts were originally made for the commercial areas, and are thus not suitable for the communal lands.

The implementation of the Mines and Minerals Act has also become quite controversial. Exploring the land resources formining can supersede the right of comesome already using the land for farming, without any compensation to the farmer. Once a miing claim is pegged all other acts cannot be considered. Supersession may be an acceptable feature of a legal system, however the supersession of a sustainable land use such as agriculture by surface mining that is dependent upon a non-renewable resource is a questionable practice from an environmental point of view. It has further proved difficult to enforce land reclamation after mining operations have ceased.

The country has adequate expertise capable of monitoring natural resource degradation, but less so far the regulation of industrial pollutants in the atmosphere and in water bodies. The implementation of the relevant acts (Hazardous Substances and Articles Act, Atmospheric Pollution Prevention Act and the Water Act) is dependent pon accurate monitoring, which the government has not been able to carry out systematically due to lack of qualified manpower.

Generally, the enforcement of some of these acts is difficult due to the provision of exemptions which allow companies to pollute, in some cases, the various pieces of legislation are conflicting, which leads to further problems of implementation. In other words, there is no lack of legsilation per se, but the various laws are fragmented and a coherent national environmental policy in the form of umbrella legislation, has not yet been developed. One of the prominent and more interesting features of the Zimbabwe legislation is how the law has formalised popular participation. In some instances ministries are supposed to take the views of then local communities, (for example, district development committees, statutory local wildlife committees), into account before making decisions concerning the use of natural resources. A closely related legal innovation concerns the managment of wildlife resources. The utilisation of these resources is carefully regulated, even on private land. Thus, a landowner needs to license in order to hunt specific animals on his own land. Treaties and Conventions

Zimbabwe is presently a party to the following treaties and conventions:
  • Convention Concerning The Protection of The World Cultural and Natural Heritage
  • Preferential Trade Area Treaty (PTA)
  • Lome Convention
  • World Heritage Convention
  • International Conventions on Internatioal Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
  • Agreement on the Action Plan for the Environmentally sound Management of the Zambezi River System (ZACPPLAN)


In addition the country is considering ratifying a number of other treaties covering areas such as transboundary movements of hazardous waste, protection of the ozone layer, climate change and biological diversity.

In many instances international conventions fail to link up with local laws and realities. Perhaps the best example is the CITES Convention which Zimbabwe signed a number of years ago. CITES bans the sale of ivory, and the yet Zimbabwe maintains that the country now has a surplus for sale, and the proceeds could be used to advance the cause of conservation. More general concerns have been raised by Zimbabwe and other countries in the region particularly with regard to the Basel Convention on Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Waste. It has been argued that this convention is inadequate where it relates to the question of compensation in the event of breaches, and Zimbabwe, as the majority of African countries, has not signed.

If you have any questions or comments please contact us at sanee@harare.iafrica.com.

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