The Situation of Commercial Farm Workers after Land Reform in Zimbabwe

Assessing the impact of reform on farm workers

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1.6 Assessing the impact of reform on farm workers

The scale of the fast-track land reform was unparalleled in the country’s history. It easily dwarfed the land redistribution undertaken between 1980 and 1997. Between 2000 and 2002, some 11 million hectares changed hands, in a massive property transfer from white commercial farmers. An estimated 90 per cent of the farmers had their land acquired by the government. According to proponents of the reform, this amounted to ‘an agrarian revolution’ or ‘Third Chimurenga’. (Chimurenga is a Shona word meaning struggle. The ‘First Chimurenga’ was the 19th century resistance to British colonialism, the ‘Second Chimurenga’ was the national liberation war of the 1970s.) The specific challenge of this report is to assess the impact of this land reform on farm workers.

On the face of it, it would not be difficult to identify the ‘beneficiaries’ and ‘non-beneficiaries’ of the fast-track programme. The beneficiaries largely consist of the estimated 300,000 small-holder settlers who received land under the A1 model. They also include the 30,000 black commercial farmers who had taken up land under the A2 model by February 2003. The original provision had been for 51,000 A2 farmers, but the uptake was below expectation. Those who lost out in the reform include the white commercial farmers whose land was acquired, and farm workers who lost jobs and were not allocated land. Less than 5 per cent of farm workers were given land under the fast-track programme. Because the fortunes of the workers were intimately tied up with those of their ‘white bosses’, they bore the brunt of the consequences of the acquisition of the white-owned farms.

An assessment of the impact of land reform on farm workers should consider the original objective of reform, and the material outcomes in terms of loss of jobs, assets and access to services and entitlements. It should also consider the benefits, if any, that accrued to farm workers as a result of the reform. This is not as simple an exercise as it would appear at first sight. First, it is not clear whether the government had a policy for addressing the situation of farm workers under land reform. In its document on the Land Reform and Resettlement Programme (LRRP) Phase 2, the government stated that the reform would, among other things, reduce the ‘extent and intensity of poverty among rural families and farm workers by providing them with adequate land for agricultural and pastoral use’ (Zimbabwe government, 1998). In the event, however, while the land needs of some communal families were catered for under the A1 model, those of the farm workers were largely ignored. This raises the question of whether the government was seriously committed to land reform that would benefit farm workers. We will return to this theme in Chapter 2.

The impact of land reform on farm workers can be measured in terms of the number of jobs and incomes lost. Although it is not possible to give exact figures for these, some reasonable estimates can be made, on the basis of the number of farms that have ceased operations, the number of white commercial farmers who have vacated their properties, and the number of schools and clinics that have been shut down. However, allowances should be made for those instances where new farmers who acquired the properties re-engaged some of the farm workers. Not all farm workers once employed by white commercial farmers have lost jobs and livelihoods. The same consideration applies to their access to housing on the farm. There is also a varied picture regarding access to basic services such as health, education, water supplies and subsidised food. In most cases, land reform has significantly reduced farm workers’ access to these.

An analysis of this sort must also take into account the widespread drought of the 2001-2002 cropping season. This drought, which affected large parts of southern Africa, caused a dramatic drop in harvests, leading to massive food shortages. The food security of farm workers was severely affected. It is not simple to separate the relative contributions of drought and land reform to the sharp drop in food production in 2002-2003. However, the decline in agricultural output began in 2000 when the reform began, and before the drought. Moreover, in previous droughts, for instance in 1992-93, food reserves and agricultural production did not fall to the alarming levels reached in 2002. To that extent, the manner and scale of land reform contributed to a dramatic fall in agricultural output.

An assessment of the impact of land reform at this stage can be, at best, provisional. The full impact of the reform on farm workers and the wider economy will take several years to work itself through. The recovery in agriculture will take even longer. Thus this report focuses largely on the immediate consequences of the programme. This is partly explained by the priority to address the humanitarian and other emergency needs of social groups that have been adversely affected by the reform. This report highlights clear practical problems, namely the threat to livelihoods and the fate of vulnerable groups. Where opportunities exist to ameliorate the plight of farm workers in the context of the reform or by enhancing coping mechanisms, these will be identified. This has a bearing on the methodology of the study.

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