The Situation of Commercial Farm Workers after Land Reform in Zimbabwe

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No.of farms


Total families settled

Mat North




Mat South




Mash Central




Mash East




Mash West


688 072

27 013















7 269 936


Source: Ministry of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Settlement data as adapted in UNDP, 2002.

As a consequence of the fast-track programme, agricultural output declined substantially during 2001-2002. Even if a drought had not occurred, a decline would have been inevitable. Following a 21 per cent drop in output in 2001, it was predicted that output might drop by 40 per cent in the 2002-2003 season (Wright, 2002). For instance, tobacco production dropped from 236 million kg in 2000 to 165 million kg in 2002, and there are fears that it may slump to 75 million kg in 2003. When 65 per cent of 700 wheat farmers were served with eviction notices in January, this implied that wheat production in 2002 would be cut by up to half, to 115,000 tonnes (Financial Gazette, 31 January 2002). Maize and livestock production also declined sharply. One study concluded that agricultural exports had declined owing to disruptions associated with the fast-track programme (UNDP, 2002). The ripple effects have been felt widely in the economy with further contraction predicted for 2003.

In the last phase of the fast-track programme, the major development was the take-up of farms designated for A2 model settlement. This was a slower process but also more contentious. The speed of the implementation of this model, which originally aimed to settle 51,000 indigenous commercial farmers, depended on several factors. The first related to the availability of farm land; this explained the urgency attached to the evictions of commercial farmers still resident on their properties in mid-2002. Second, there was, paradoxically, a slower up-take of the farmland. This was partly due to the large investment necessary to start production. Far fewer than the anticipated number of indigenous farmers had settled on the farms by the cut-off date of the end of August 2002. The Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement, Joseph Made, was obliged to issue a warning that prospective farmers must confirm their willingness to undertake agricultural activities by 23 August 2002 or risk having the offer of land withdrawn (Herald, 6 August 2002). At the time of writing (March 2003), it was still not clear how many farmers had been settled under the A2 model; however, one estimate was that about 30,000 or 60 per cent of the original target, had been settled on about 2 million hectares (Agri Sa, 2003; Adams,2003). Access to credit finance remained a major constraint for most A2 model farmers. Attempts to create state-financed credit through an agri-bond issue in the last quarter were somewhat belated and under-subscribed.

However, throughout 2002 there was nevertheless a competitive scramble for commercial farms by members of the ruling elite. This was widely reported in the national and international press. To those who subscribed to the ‘agrarian revolution’, this was the last chance to share in the spoils, now that up to 300,000 people had been resettled, and yet surplus land remained. The timing of the scramble for land by the elite was almost impeccable. It followed an acceptance, however grudging, that thousands of families had been settled by the first quarter of 2002. However, because most of this land was in the prime agro-ecological areas and had good infrastructure, competition for it was intense (Sunday Mail, 9 March 2003; Sunday Times, 2 March 2003). Some prime farming areas which witnessed disputes of ownership included Mazowe, Goromonzi, Chinhoyi, Shamva, Marondera and Beatrice. It is no coincidence that these areas are situated in the three Mashonaland provinces. The scramble for A2 land was less intense in Manicaland and the Matabeleland provinces, and there have been few reports of such competition in Masvingo and Midlands.

There was apprehension that a new black land-owning elite was emerging. This was a sentiment raised at ZANU-PF’s national congress held in Chinhoyi in December 2002. Ironically, it was the war veterans who were most vocal about land appropriations by the elite. Some governors were alleged to have acquired several farms each. ‘Good’ political connections were alleged to have been a factor behind land acquisition by a prominent television news correspondent and a sports promoter. In both cases, disputes over ownership had already erupted with war veterans living adjacent to the farms (Daily News, 14 December 2002). If most of the new landowners turn out to be largely ‘telephone farmers’, agricultural production would suffer. As 2002 drew to a close, and as no more than 600 to 800 white farmers remained on the land, hard questions were beginning to be asked about the method and pace of the fast-track programme. The Minister of Lands, Agriculture and Rural Resettlement could not estimate how much grain had been planted for the season and admitted that this was ‘a big problem for us as a government’ (Standard, 1 December 19, 2002). In early 2003 there were tentative but somewhat feeble attempts to woo back white farmers through inconclusive discussions with the CFU.


The Impact of Land Reform on Farm Workers’ Livelihoods

3.1 Introduction

What was the impact of land reform on farm workers’ livelihoods by the end of 2002? What had happened to their access to jobs and regular incomes? What were the patterns of access to land, housing, water and basic social services such as health care? Drawing on field material gathered in October and November 2002 from eight provinces, this chapter addresses these issues. This material was gathered two months after the fast-track programme was said to be officially complete. The material was obtained on the threshold of the summer season, when most agricultural activity begins. The fortunes of farm workers were, predictably, tied to those of their employers, about 90 per cent of whom had left their farms properties because these had been compulsorily acquired under Sections 5 and 8 by the government (see Chapter 2). More than 50 per cent of farm workers had lost their jobs as a result. This chapter marshals the evidence on the ground to build a fuller picture on the state of commercial farms and farm workers at the end of jambanja.

3.2 Production conditions and employment on farms

The main picture that emerges from field material is that by November 2002 most commercial farms had been transferred to new settlers and farmers under models A1 and A2 respectively. Between 80 and 90 per cent of the farms surveyed had experienced either a halt or a drastic decline in production (field interviews, October-November 2002). For instance, in Mashonaland West, of the 30 farms surveyed, 90 per cent had been acquired by government and 60 per cent of them had stopped production activities completely. The remainder had significantly reduced their operations. In parts of Manicaland, it was observed that only 10 per cent of farms were in full production; the remaining 90 per cent had scaled down production substantially. A similar pattern emerged in Mashonaland East. Out of 24 farms covered in that province, 10 per cent were operating fully, 20 per cent had scaled down operations and 70 per cent had halted production altogether. In the 30 farms studied in Matabeleland North and South, 80 per cent had been turned over to resettlement, and production on the remaining farms had fallen by 70 per cent. Similarly in Midlands, of the 15 farms surveyed, 12 had been affected by jambanja, leading to a halt or significant scaling back in production. However, larger estates and plantations, those specialising in sugar, tea and timber production in particular, were spared from acquisition. This was the case with tea estates in Manicaland, the three sugar plantations in the Chiredzi area of Masvingo province, and the citrus estates in the Mazowe area of Mashonaland Central. The smaller, white-owned, cane-producing farms in the Chiredzi area were, however, acquired.

This provincial pattern of a cessation or significant drop in production complements the national trend referred to in Chapter 2. Production on commercial farms in the 2002-03 season will reach much lower levels than it did in the 2000-01 and 2001-02 seasons. It is unlikely that the new settlers will make up for the lost production. While in the 2001-02 season most commercial farmers, although they scaled down production considerably, remained resident on their properties, during the 2002-03 season the majority left. This has far-reaching implications for employment levels on the farms.

The survey reveals a consistent pattern of significant job losses as farms scaled back or closed down operations. In the second quarter of 2002 — before the exodus of most commercial farmers under Section 8 — a survey of 235 farms established that more than 40 per cent of farm workers in Mashonaland East had lost their jobs, 46 per cent in Mashonaland Central and 33 per cent in Mashonaland West (FCTZ, 2002b). But job losses among seasonal workers were far higher. About 50 per cent of them had lost their jobs in the three Mashonaland provinces. Data from October-November 2002 suggests that job losses continued and increased. In line with the big decline in production on commercial farms, it was estimated that in Midlands Province, farm employment levels had dropped by 70 per cent. Similarly, 90 per cent of farm workers in Mashonaland West had lost their permanent status. Most become short-term contract workers (field interviews, October 2002). In the two Matabeleland provinces, data suggested that the farm workforce had been reduced by up to 65 per cent. An estimated 80 per cent of workers interviewed in Mashonaland East had no permanent employment. In Masvingo province there had also been large lay-offs but most workers had not received severance packages (ibid).

Table 3.1 Pattern of farm workers’ job losses, 2002


Estimated number of workers affected

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