River, Crocs, and the Bounty of the Commons

Our last outing was to a village on the Matetsi River, which feeds into the “Mighty Zambezi” – the river of legend in Southern Africa – a 2,200 mile long wide and fast flowing serpent that feeds Victoria Falls and coils through nine countries before opening its mouth to the Indian Ocean.  The Metetsi was no less fabulously and beautiful. Even for the dry season the river was majestic and primal, with rapids, boulders, lush growth, and full of crocs. How frustrating to be tempted by such water in a dry climate, yet to have to approach with extreme caution. The city-raised Zimbabweans are afraid to fish, as even sitting by the banks could be a deadly proposition.  At least one hears the lion approach and that’s not likely during the day.  But you can’t hear the crocs which stealthily cruise underwater like killer subs. But then, the locals know their patterns and don’t have the same fear as their city reared countrymen. I must admit, I was desperate for a dip. Hot. Dry. Not quite delirious enough for a plunge that could be my last, but enough so that I could see how someone could be swayed – like Ulysses to the sirens. Do, you swim in it, I asked one of the locals. Oh yes, I swim, he said. Not afraid of the crocs? No. Even without swimming, the cool air was refreshing.  If you couldn’t dive in, you could at least take in the beauty and negative ions.  Certainly, this community uses the river extensively. They fish and the cattle water from it. One of the grazing areas is on a hill that goes right down the rocky shore.  This is probably the most welcoming spot I’ve been to – water, hills, trees with leaves, tall grass, fat cattle. It was a joy. This community is situated well and they are working together.  Earlier in the day that same man who was not afraid of the crocs (the vice headman), laid out their grazing plan, which included six paddocks.  There were about 150 head of cattle contributed from roughly 15 families. Not all families contributed, of course, but those that did were making the program work. It’s like this in the most of the communities.  There are always some families that are hesitant to herd their cattle with a group, but invariably, they see the improvement of the grazed land.  What we are seeing is really the opposite of the Tragedy of the Commons, it is the Bounty of the Commons. Instead of a community depleting a resource, and are restoring it.  The problem with the original tragedy of the commons, is that there was no plan. Haphazard grazing of only a few cattle will lead to soil loss, yet planned grazing of entire herds can lead to it’s regeneration.  The tragedy of the commons is really a tragedy of planning.  Blame the Gringos, not the grazers. 

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