Source: Field interviews, October-November 2002
Several problems were encountered during field research. Compared to previous years, the present atmosphere for research on farms has become more difficult. Several teams of research assistants met with hostility and non-cooperation. The political volatility that has gripped the country since 2000 has also engulfed rural Zimbabwe. One unfortunate result of that is suspicion of outsiders, particularly towards researchers affiliated to NGOs. Typical of observations by research assistants were these in Mashonaland East:
access to farms was a problem especially on farms that were affected with war vets that have moved in … We found that locals were not free to speak to us … It was very sensitive to do interviews especially if war vets were around … (field notes, 2002)
Similarly, in Mashonaland West, there was a problem of access to farms because the authorities appeared to view NGOs with suspicion (ibid). Researchers also recorded suspicion from the authorities in Manicaland and Midlands. There was less suspicion and hostility in Matabeleland and Masvingo. Even in the Mashonaland provinces, however, the suspicion was not universal. In most provinces, the reception and cooperation from farmers and farm workers was often good.
On the whole, however, the suspicion among some authorities and war veterans was short-lived once the purpose of the fieldwork had been explained. Only in a few instances did the research assistants have to change location. The atmosphere of intolerance, suspicion and fear in Zimbabwean politics has nevertheless left an unfortunate imprint on the research environment. It is earnestly hoped that this will be not be a permanent state of affairs.
This environment had a bearing on the overall study and accounts for its limitations. For instance, the reason why there were slightly fewer respondent households than originally planned was that some household members had resorted to itinerant activities for survival. In some households, members would be away from the farm performing piece-work jobs elsewhere or engaging in gold panning. In general, however, it was more difficult to get full details of original farm workers broken down by gender and type of contract from the new farmers. The latter would profess ignorance concerning the size of the original work force on the farm they had inherited. One way to obtain the information was to ask the clerk or foreman or a knowledgeable former farm worker.
Our estimate was that, at the time of our research, about 30-40 per cent of new farmers under the A2 model had taken up land allocated to them. Out of this group, about 10 per cent had absorbed some of the original workforce. The proportion was higher in the more intensively farmed districts and especially where horticulture was the main activity. Finally, there may have been an in-built bias in our findings because we tended to cover farms where some activity was still taking place, and where the farmer was still reachable for interview. At the end of 2002, this was no longer the case on most farms.
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