The Situation of Commercial Farm Workers after Land Reform in Zimbabwe

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Mashonaland West


Mashonaland East


Mashonaland Central






Source: FCTZ, 2002c

The overall picture is thus one of massive job losses which would appear to reach more than the 50 per cent originally estimated. Further lay-offs ensued with the exodus of 90 per cent of commercial farmers in the last quarter of 2002. Although no precise estimates are possible of the number of farm workers who lost their jobs between 2000 and 2002, the commercial farmers themselves estimated them at over 200,000 (CFU, 2003). It would require a much more extensive study than the present one to reach a more precise estimate.

The loss of permanent worker status on the farms is quite widespread. In its place, there is a pronounced trend towards contract work arrangements. This reflects the fluid situation on those commercial farms that are still operational. It also relates to the weaker capacity of new farmers under the A2 model to employ permanent labour. The new farmers have fewer financial resources and lower production capacity and so cannot absorb most of the former permanent workers. It would appear that the latter are often engaged as contract workers for shorter periods. The changes brought about by land reform, including the subdivision of farms, reduced the incentive to employ permanent labour on both the new farms, and the few remaining white-owned commercial farms. A nationwide government survey of farm workers in 2001 established that about 35 per cent of them were either contract or seasonal workers (Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, 2001). Some 20 per cent were contract workers, and 15 per cent seasonal. These proportions appear to have increased significantly since those finding were published in September 2001. Contract or seasonal labour is now one of the main sources of livelihoods for workers still on the farms. Land reform has thus brought about a shift in the organisation of work, mainly towards more flexible hiring and firing, and more insecure types of employment.

Significantly, despite the large lay-offs, a considerable proportion of farm workers remain on the farms. In the Mashonaland provinces surveyed in the second quarter of 2002, between 33 and 50 per cent of farm workers had stayed on despite losing their jobs (FCTZ, 2002b). It was observed:

in Mashonaland West, where most farms have been taken under model A2, farm workers were still on the farms. Some were on reduced working hours which translated into a cut in remuneration. On farms that had completely stopped operations, the majority of farm workers were staying on the farm in apparent hopelessness, as they were not clear as to where to go. (ibid)

There was a similar pattern in Mashonaland East. In Manicaland and the Matabeleland provinces, most farm workers also continued to stay on the farms. This involved some understanding between them and the former owner but also with the new owners who have an interest in the pool of labour that the workers provide. In some instances, the continued stay of farm workers has resulted in conflict with new settlers who sought to take over both the land and the housing on the farm.

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