Land seizures leave farm workers destitute

HARARE - Dokson farm is the only home 38-year-old Samuel Makazu, has ever known.

His parents are buried there.

Born at the farm in Shamva to migrant workers of Malawian origin, Makazu left school at the age of 12 just after completing his primary education to join his father’s occupation as a farmhand.

Now a father of four, Makazu has become a destitute after the farm which is into mixed farming changed hands and the new owner evicted all the families there.

“I have nowhere else to go to and unlike the others I have no rural home to return to,” he said in a low voice, his blank face portraying a deep sense of hopelessness.

Makazu is part of 400 families who were evicted from the farm which had not only been their home,  but was a source of their livelihood.

The stout labourer, who looks more like a 50-year-old man, is among millions of farm workers who have been displaced since the start of the government land reform programme spearheaded by war veterans and Zanu PF activists with the blessing of government.

Government turned it into policy in 2 000, ostensibly to correct a historical imbalance which saw five percent of the minority white people owning 80 percent of the arable land in the country.

Under this programme, according to a 2010 research document published by Weaver Press entitled; Zimbabwe’s Land Reform; Myths and Realities, eight million hectares of land were re-distributed among 160 000 households.

Another report spearheaded by former chief Cabinet secretary to President Robert Mugabe, Charles Utete on agrarian reform states that 135 000 households had been resettled by mid-2003, on A1 and A2 farms.

A2 farms which measure up to 1 000 hectares depending on the region, were reserved for those with the capacity to run commercial farms with the intention of creating an indigenous elite capable of participating in the mainstream economy.

Agriculture is the backbone of the 13 million-populated southern African country which before the agrarian reform programme was responsible for raking in a major chunk of foreign currency.

Under the programme, 2 000 white tobacco farmers were replaced by 60 000 new black farmers.

A1 farms on the other hand are small-scale farms modelled along the lines of an expanded communal resettlement format.

The target groups for these farms were the war veterans, women and youths, former farm workers and landless persons.

But only a few former farmworkers benefited from the government programme with the rest taken in by new farmers or left in the cold.

However, some like 45-year-old Taurai James, who worked and lived at Dokson, formerly owned by Rodgers Staunton for 19 years, is in a worse situation.

While some of his migrant worker colleagues hope to eke out a living as hirelings, he does not have any prospects of finding any piece jobs after an injury he suffered, while working left him unable to do manual work.

“I don’t even know where to start because I had an agreement with Staunton that I would live in the house he built for me here for the rest of my life.

“After I was injured, we came into an agreement that I would always have a home at the farm,” he said

Staunton is however long gone and the farm has since been allocated to Joselyne Chiwenga under the land reform programme.

In his May 2003 research document entitled; The Situation of Commercial Farm Workers after Land Reform in Zimbabwe, leading scholar Lloyd Sachikonye states that fewer than five percent of the farm workers received land under the reform programme.

As a result, thousands of farm workers who constitute a significant percentage of the country’s workforce became destitute.

The publication states that only 100 000 out of an estimated 350 000 of the total who worked on commercial farms retained their jobs.

Of that alarming figure, 50 percent of permanent female workers lost their jobs while 60 percent of seasonal female workers lost their jobs 30 and 33 percent of male workers respectively lost their jobs.

A paper recently published by Walter Chambati, a researcher on agrarian labour also suggests that between 45 000 and 70 000 permanent farm workers were displaced and had nowhere to go but that the employment increased on the farms after the land reform programme.

His claims are also supported in the ruling party Zanu PF 2013 election manifesto which says 1,7 million jobs were created by the agrarian reform.

The party say a total of 1 717 093 real sources of livelihoods have been created over the past decade.

Zanu PF, in power since the country attained independence in 1980, also revealed that 81 375 permanent jobs had been created on A1 farms while 178 107 had been created under A2, while temporary employment for A1 and A2 was pegged at 309 225 and 138 459 respectively.

But indications on the ground reveal that farm labourers like 35-year-old Keresensia Diriano, who retained her job after a black new farmer took over, have to contend with poor working conditions.

In sharp contrast to the promises of empowerment through land reform, life under the new farmer has turned into a nightmare for the mother of three who has been living at the Dokson farm since 1998.

Before the land reform programme, they were assured of getting their salaries on the 25th of every month, but things have since changed under the new farmer.

“We have not been paid for the past eight months,” she said.

“When the white farmer was evicted, he promised to give us exit packages, but then he was forced to leave in a hurry with only the clothes on his back.

“We later on came to an agreement that we would sell the equipment he left and get our dues but these were also taken over by the new farmer.”

The General Agriculture and Plantation Workers of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) states that employment decreased from 500 000 in 2000 to 200 000 in 2008 and as a result, their membership slumped to 25 000 in 2008 from 150 000 before the land reform programme.

For example, 78 white farmers who formerly owned Stockdale Farm in Chegutu employed at least 60 000 workers but less than half of these workers were accommodated by the new farmer.

The citrus farm now belongs to a high ranking member of the ruling party and president of Senate Edna Madzongwe.

Sachikonye says the evictions left dependents of the workers estimated at between 1,8 – 2 million people (about 20 percent of the population) destitute.

Apart from the unlawful labour practices farm labourers are experiencing, the workers also have to contend with poor living conditions.

“We have not had water here for the past six years because the farmer does not provide electricity for pumping the borehole.

“We have had to make do with water from streams and our children are always suffering from diarrhoea.

“When we fall sick we cannot access medical attention nearby as the farm clinic is no longer operational,” Diriano said.

Like many Zimbabweans mother of three also has the burden of caring for terminally ill relatives.

“We have relatives who are living with HIV and have to travel all the way to Harare to collect medication, but sometimes they fail to travel because of the costs involved,” she said.

Community Working Group on Health (CWGH) director Itai Rusike said farm workers were facing challenges accessing treatment for illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes and HIV/Aids.

He said that according to the law, people are not supposed to travel more than 10 kilometre radius to access health facilities, but some of the resettled people now travel for more than 50 km to access treatment.

“Before the land reform, farm workers would access treatment from the farm house where white farmers would hire the services of cadets who operated in the same manner as village health workers,” Rusike said.

The Daily News on Sunday learnt how the system was so organised that skilled medical personnel would pay regular visits to the farms and consult with patients, but now people have to travel long distances to access treatment, a factor which brings in out of pocket costs as they will need to transport themselves to health centres.

“Transport has already been cited as a barrier to access of treatment.

“Even in the case of antiretroviral treatment which government claims to give out for free.

“You find that people who require free medication end up spending more,” Rusike pointed out.

Another humanitarian crisis that arose as a result of the land reform programme was that of food security, poor nutrition and internal displacement.

Samuel Sipepa Nkomo, the MDC shadow minister for agriculture, said his party was aware of the humanitarian crisis caused by the land reform programme.

He said before the land reform programme, white farmers would put up houses for their employees but some of the new farmers got rid of the workers.

“In cases where they didn’t get rid of them, they did not pay them, they used their labour because the new owner was looking for quick money and so the new owner in some cases would actually sell equipment rendering the farm unproductive because equipment would have been vandalised,” he said.

Nkomo said in cases where the farm workers were allowed to stay on the farms, the new owners did not stay there and therefore their business was not profitable, a thing that negatively affected the workers.

“They were ‘cellphone farmers’, many of them had never ever owned a piece of land previously and their right to land was their affiliation to Zanu PF,” the shadow minister pointed out.

He said there was urgent need to conduct a land audit to redress the situation which saw a significant number of farm workers being displaced.

The World Bank estimates there were at least 1 million displaced persons in Zimbabwe in 2010.

Justice for Agriculture Trust on one hand estimates that there were between 1,3-1,9 million farm workers before the land reform programme.

After the land reform, some workers who were not absorbed by new farmers were resettled in areas like Chihwiti in the Makonde area where they relied on government hand-outs of farm inputs.

However, the broke government recently scrapped away the programme.

A Zimbabwe refugee rights group, People against Suffering, Oppression and Poverty (Pasop) says at least 100 000 of displaced farm workers are now working in neighbouring South Africa.

However, those who were lucky to secure employment outside our boarders are reported to be subjected to unfair labour practices, but because of their migrant status, most of them cannot seek redress from the law.

The not so lucky ones where subjected to xenophobia riots which rocked South Africa in May 2008.

Comments (1)

I wish you could go to a farm in marondera called faramatsi estates and see hw a nce viable dairy farm has been reduced to nathing, it shares a boundary with watershed,

meee4 - 15 May 2014

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