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Zimbabwe: one million casualties of land reform 0

The seizure of large commercial farms – almost all white-owned – has continued despite the formation of a unity government in Zimbabwe. The country’s farm workers say they are the biggest losers.

The workers say that Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders must intervene immediately to stop the violence against them.

About one million farm workers have been evicted from farms across Zimbabwe since the year 2000, according to the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre.

This is a huge percentage of the total Zimbabwean farm worker population, which was estimated by the Justice for Agriculture Trust based in Harare at somewhere between 1.3 and 1.9 million before the land seizures began. Zimbabwean refugee rights group People Against Suffering, Suppression, Oppression and Poverty (PASSOP) says around 100,000 are now working on farms in South Africa.

IPS spoke about the situation for farm workers with three Zimbabweans considering joining their peers on South African farms. Fearing government persecution by Zimbabwe’s Central Intelligence Organisation, all the farm workers insisted on anonymity.

They told IPS that when Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe’s land reform programme first started in 2000, things seemed promising.

“They were promising to give us labourers good wages after removing these white farmers,” Rufaro* said.

But things quickly soured. “Some ZANU-PF youth went around hitting and raping farm workers and beating them to death. Farm labourers were thrown out of the farms with their employers and some farmers ran away without paying anything to farm workers,” said Letty*.

The workers said at least three major farms had been invaded since the unity government was formedUsasa Seedlings, Mount Carmel (a mango farm) and Stockdale citrus farm.

Stockdale, in the Chegutu district in Mashonaland West, was invaded in April 2009 by the speaker of the Zimbabwean parliament, Edna Madzongwe, despite a ruling by a SADC tribunal which said 78 white farmers who faced losing their farms could keep their land.

The SADC tribunal ruled in favour of the farmers in November 2008, finding the land redistribution programme discriminatory on the basis of race. With the Zimbabwean government failing to act on the ruling, the tribunal in June 2009 referred the case to the SADC summit of heads of state.

The farm workers said Mugabe has simply ignored rulings from the SADC tribunal, which was set up in Namibia in 2007 to rule on disputes in the Southern Africa region.

For now, an estimated 60,000 farm workers find themselves living in makeshift camps, often on the roadside near where they were evicted from, waiting for the government to resettle them.

“Some few farm workers who were lucky were resettled. But if they labelled you MDC you were not going to receive anything. We need land now to resettle the poor who have no place to stay,” Tapiwa* said.

Toiling in a foreign land

“The situation for Zimbabwean workers is dire,” says Philani Zamuchiya, of the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies (PLAAS). “Although South African labour laws protect them, commercial farmers continue flouting the regulations because they already have a pool of workers waiting to take up employment,” he noted.

In the Western Cape Province, problems worsen during the off-season for work in the vineyards. The five-month lean period is the most difficult for farm workers who struggle to meet basic necessities, let alone send money to their families back in Zimbabwe.

Constant threats and taunts by locals are another reality the foreign workers live with. Over 3,000 Zimbabweans were driven from their homes at Stofland, near the town of De Doorns during attacks in early November 2009.

In addition to long-simmering xenophobia, Zimbabwean rights organisation PASSOP and farm worker union Sikhula Sonke say the attacks were prompted by a turf war between labour brokers who deepen poverty for migrant and national farm workers alike as intermediaries between employers and the farm labour force.

Many farm workers are living on donor handouts now, while others have fled to South Africa. Letty said that of the few farm workers who still have jobs, women are in the majority. Because they are paid less, they are still found in small numbers at work on Zimbabwe’s potato and horticultural farms.

By Ann Hellman – Read more on Ips Africa

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