Landless then and homeless now

2009-08-22 12:39

ELIJAH Kajiri says the first time he ate a

mouse was on April 25 this year – a week ­after Zimbabwe’s independence

celebrations and two months after a new unity ­government had been sworn in.

“We could not get veggies and there was no

money for meat,” says Kajiri (27), a former tractor driver at Twyford, a farm in


Kajiri and 35 other farm workers now sleep in the dusty yard of

Chegutu Tractor & Auto, a failed tractor repair shop.

Elizabeth Zulu (41), whose husband was foreman at Twyford, says a

bitter conflict with the new farmer led to all the farm’s workers being evicted

between March and April this year.

“The newcomer wanted Jo, my husband, to show him around the farm;

all the equipment, the inventory – but he refused,” says Elizabeth. “We were

chased out. The other workers followed just after Independence Day. We now

survive with help from the people remaining on the farms, by stealing maize and

on mice. One mouse can feed four people,” she says.

At nearby Chigwell farm, 100 farm workers and their families live

in deserted ­tobacco sheds and also tell of conflict.

Fomisai Labson, a 24-year-old mother of two, says when former

information and publicity minister Bright Matonga brought his own workers to

Lion’s Vlei, a nearby farm, “they moved in forcefully and we moved out”.

Owen Mwale says the pay that Matonga ­offered the existing workers

was “not enough to buy a loaf of bread.

“We refused to work for Bright Matonga and were chased out,” he


In all, about 350?000 farm workers have been displaced from

commercial farms in the fallout of land reform since 2000, says Gertrude

Hambira, secretary-general of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’

Union of Zimbabwe (Gapwuz), the country’s largest farm-worker union.

“We are the third, fourth generation who have not had any other

home besides the farm. Our accommodation has always been attached to the farm,”

says Hambira, who founded Gapwuz in 1985.

Counting the families of farm workers, Gapwuz says that about

1.8?million Zim-babweans have been displaced from farms over the past nine


Simon de Swardt of the Research and ­Advocacy Unit (RAU), a Harare

NGO, says some 90% of a million documented human rights violations on farms

since 2000 were against workers. Sixty-five percent of workers interviewed claim

to have been assaulted and two children out of four (38%) have had to witness

public beatings.

“This has been the subjugation of an entire population of people,”

says De Swardt.

While conditions on farms were “not that rosy at independence”,

Hambira says, Gapwuz had won key battles to improve workers’ lot. These included

a 1998 agreement with commercial farmers “obliging them to build good houses

with brick and asbestos”, Hambira says.

“As Gapwuz’s victories for farm workers’ rights started to happen,

the land reform programme and the referendum in 1999 came. That was when workers

started agitating for a new party,” says Hambira.

She says even though Gapwuz has Zanu-PF members, its affiliation

with the Zim-babwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), out of which the Movement

for Democratic Change grew, “antagonised government and the new owners”.

“We have had more problems with exploitation since land reform.

Health and education facilities on farms have decayed. Farmers say they don’t

have money and most have downsized,” she says.

While a 2002 statute entitles workers to severance pay and a

relocation fee when their services are terminated on a farm, the Zimbabwean

government, as the sole owner of agricultural land, has been “unable to afford

it”, says Hambira.

According to Gapwuz information officer Tapiwa Zivira, some farm

workers have since “slid into illicit gold deals, prostitution and child labour”

while others now move from farm to farm doing casual or “piece work”.

“We always advocated land for the landless,” says Hambira. “Farm

workers were supposed to be the first beneficiaries.”

In Harare, Silas Hungwe, president of the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union

(ZFU), told City Press that new farmers were struggling financially and farm

workers had themselves to blame for their problems.

“They were not pushed off the land. They created the atmosphere

that made new farmers let them go. It’s not that the new farmers dismissed

them,” he says.

He says the new farmers have been hamstrung since 2000 by a lack of

“farming inputs” such as seed, fertiliser and chemicals, although supplies have

improved since last year.

While some farms are flourishing – City Press bought carrots on a

farm belonging to Gideon Gono, the reserve bank governor under whose watch

inflation reached 98% a day in November – much land lies fallow.

The Commercial Farmers’ Union (CFU) is forecasting abysmal harvests

despite good rains this year, with maize production of some 500?000 tons still

at a quarter of 2000 levels.

The Tetrad Group, a Harare consultancy, says every crop except

sorghum and cotton has halved since 1998, while manufacturing output has dropped


“Unless there is progress in agriculture that picture is unlikely

to change,” Ranganayi Makwata, a Tetrad consultant, told a CFU meeting in Harare

earlier this month.

All farmers interviewed by City Press, including Hungwe and members

of the CFU, believe production will not recover if all farmers are not given

proper title to farming land the state says it owns.

Hungwe wants title enshrined in Zimbabwe’s next constitution. The

CFU says only “a small fraction” of new farmers have received even long term

leases, which restricts their ability to get credit.

Evictions of white commercial farmers continue despite a ruling by

a Southern African Development Community tribunal that some 80 of them be

allowed to farm.

This means nobody is preparing to plant, says Ben Freeth (39),

whose Mount Carmel farm, near Chegutu, has been violently ­occupied since April

last year. He expects a wheat crop of 3%.

“There will be no summer crop. There’ll be subsistence, but that is

not going to feed the nation. It never has,” Freeth says.

  • The ZFU set up an interview for City Press with an emerging farmer in Chegutu

    who had received a white commercial farm. The farmer, who refused to give his

    name, cancelled the interview when he realised City Press was a South African

    ­newspaper, saying he needed permission from Herbert Murerwa, minister of lands

    and land resettlement, before he could talk. “How do we otherwise know you are ­going to write a positive

    story?” he asked.

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