Zimbabwe: Displaced farm workers face crisis

News

A wave of fresh farm invasions has swept across Zimbabwe in the last few months leaving hundreds of farm workers jobless and homeless.

The majority of these displaced workers have set up base on roadsides close to the farms where they used to work after being booted out by the new occupants.

This, according to the General Agriculture and Plantations Workers Union, has created a “humanitarian crisis” in the farming sector, which used to be the biggest employer in the country.

Several commercial farmers across Zimbabwe, notably in Mashonaland West, Mashonaland East, Manicaland and Midlands provinces, were forced off their farms, with the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) estimating that more than 40 properties had also been threatened with repossession since the beginning of the year.

Observers say that senior politicians and government officials are using their clout and taking advantage of the absence of a sound land policy to displace some beneficiaries of the fast-track land redistribution exercise which started in 2000.

The government, however, denies the farm invasions, although it has not offered any assistance to the affected farm workers and the farmers.

The CFU Legal Affairs Manager, Marc Carrie Wilson refused to speak to Equal Times on the issue, but CFU President Charles Taffs, confirmed the latest farm displacements saying the country needed to change its land policy to protect all farmers.

According to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, the latest farm seizures have resulted in the loss of over 900 jobs while disrupting the education of the workers’ children.

General Agriculture and Plantations Workers Union (GAPWUZ) General Secretary, Gift Muti, said most of the displaced farm workers were now in need of assistance as they have been deprived of their only source of income and shelter.

“Most of these people were ejected from the farms during the summer season, which affected the crops they had planted on their small pieces of land, exposing them to hunger.

“They are also exposed to the vagaries of the weather, especially the children and women, some of whom are pregnant. They are living in groups by the roadsides and have no access to health care facilities and they are in desperate need of assistance,” Muti said.

 

“Nowhere to go”

Agriculture accounts for about 15-18 per cent of Zimbabwe’s gross domestic product (GDP) and over 70 per cent of the population works in agriculture or agricultural-related jobs.

But since 2000, the sector has been rocked by instability as the Zanu-PF government embarked on a decade-long campaign of land reforms to redress the expropriation of land from black Zimbabweans following nearly a century of white-minority rule.

However, the transfer of lands, which was meant to benefit the majority of Zimbabweans, was marred by violence and corruption, turning the former “breadbasket of Africa” into what the western media dubbed “a basket case”.

The number of white-owned commercial farms diminished from about 4,000 to about 400 today, with their land being reallocated to tens of thousands of small-scale farmers.

But the latest wave of farm invasions has affected both white and black farmers, including some of those who were beneficiaries of the original land reforms.

Muti said his union had launched an appeal so that the farm workers can try to rebuild their lives.

“We are now appealing to whoever can be able to assist to come forward and help these families. Most of them have nowhere to go,” he said.

Muti said they had approached government on several occasions to ask for assistance for the former farm workers but to no avail.

“They believe that when someone’s employment has been terminated, they should go back to where they came from. But the problem is that most of these people are migrant workers, from neighbouring countries such as Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique and the farms are the only homes they know,” he said.

He said the union was pushing for the workers to get compensation and be given alternative settlements so that they can restart their lives as subsistence farmers.