The Situation of Commercial Farm Workers after Land Reform in Zimbabwe

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The purpose of this report

The purpose of this report is to assess the situation of commercial farm workers, in particular, how it has been shaped by the fast-track land reform programme since 2000. Some estimates suggest that 180,000 to 200,000 farm workers, if not more, lost their jobs. In most instances, this resulted in loss of their entitlement to housing on the farms, and often to subsidised food and basic social services. Others were forced to move off the farms to make way for new settlers under the A1 and A2 models. (Under the A1 model, small farmers have been settled on pieces of land of about 5 hectares with additional grazing land. Under the A2 model, aspiring black commercial farmers have been allocated land of several hundred, sometimes several thousand, hectares). Those displaced by the reform are often stranded on the outskirts of the farms, or else they have trekked to fast-growing ’informal settlements’ where social conditions are desperate. The report investigates the conditions in which farm workers subsist, and their coping strategies. In particular, it analyses the impact of the decline in food security and the effects of the HIV-AIDS epidemic on their livelihoods and family structures.

The report begins by setting out the social and historical context surrounding the debate and process of land reform. This background is needed to explain the dynamics and trajectory of the fast-track programme. It presents the contending perspectives on how the reform should have been undertaken, and then examines the wider economic and social consequences of what actually occurred. The report draws on field findings to describe and assess the changes on commercial farms since 2000, and focuses on the impact of those changes on farm workers. Aspects of government policy or measures and the positions and experiences of commercial farmers are touched on where they had effects for farm workers.

There is a compelling reason to maintain this focus on farm workers. Historically, they have been sidelined in discussion of policies or programmes that determine their interests. So it was under the fast-track programme. This focus also derives from the mission and programme focus of the Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe (FCTZ), the sponsor of this report. The FCTZ is a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) committed to empowering farm workers to achieve a better life, and creating an environment conducive to the holistic growth of commercial farming communities. Founded in 1996 under a deed of trust, the FCTZ has pursued its objective through a coordinated programme of community development and advocacy, lobbying and communication, targeted at those who can facilitate change within the commercial farming community. In a number of ways, the fast-track programme has had a direct impact on the scope of FCTZ’s work and on its target group, the farm workers themselves. The significant reduction in the number of white commercial farms and the workers who provided labour on them, and a need to attend to the welfare of displaced workers, have inspired FCTZ to review its programme focus. This report is a contribution to that process. It is based on the findings of an extensive national survey undertaken in October-November 2002.

The report intends to contribute to a broader regional debate on land reform. Namibia and South Africa are currently experiencing increasingly strident calls for speedy and comprehensive redistribution of land. As in Zimbabwe, historical injustice underlay the colonial dispossession of the majority African peoples. Are there any implicit lessons that can be drawn from Zimbabwe for future land reforms in those countries? What aspects of Zimbabwe’s fast-track programme should be adopted or avoided? How can the interests and welfare of farm workers be kept at the centre, and not the margins, of a land reform programme? These issues are addressed in the concluding section of the report.

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