The Situation of Commercial Farm Workers after Land Reform in Zimbabwe

Table 4.2 Households that cannot afford more than one meal a day

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Table 4.2 Households that cannot afford more than one meal a day


Per cent

Matabeleland North


Mashonaland West




Mashonaland East


Source: Field interviews, October-November, 2002

From our survey, it was clear that the amount of food farm workers ate had fallen significantly between 2000 and 2002. For example, 18 per cent of farm workers in Matabeleland South, 39 per cent in Mashonaland East, 21 per cent in Mashonaland West and 31 per cent Manicaland could afford only one meal a day in October 2002. The proportions in similar circumstances in Masvingo and Midlands were just as worrying. Focus group discussions often indicated that starvation and malnutrition were spreading in the farm worker community (interviews, October 2002). Where the farm workers could purchase food, they had to contend with irregular deliveries and fluctuating prices, of maize in particular. They bought it at a much higher price than the official price. The prices for a 20kg bucket of maize-meal ranged from Z$900 to Z$1,500 in parts of Mashonaland East to Z$2,500 in parts of Masvingo. It was clear in the last quarter of 2002 that farm workers had problems of irregular supply and inflationary food prices. The bulk of the food consisted of imports and so the flow of supplies in different provinces depended on the volume coming in.

4.4 Vulnerable groups in the farm worker community

Both the fast-track reform programme and the food shortage crisis exposed the increased vulnerability of certain social groups. Although these groups — migrants, women, elderly, children and youth — already experienced certain disadvantages, the events of 2000 to 2002 made them even more vulnerable. One of the principal factors behind their marginalisation is that they were not catered for under land reform. No special effort was made to address the needs of farm workers, as a whole, under land reform. The authorities took an ad hoc approach.

In addition, some policy makers had a tendency to xenophobia when it came to considering the interests of migrant workers or their descendants in commercial agriculture (Moyo et al 2000). One senior party official was quoted as saying: ‘all your farm workers are Mozambicans, Malawians and Zambians and can be shipped home at a moment’s notice’ (Zimbabwe Independent, 5 December 1997). This mentality assumed that the majority of farm workers were ‘foreigners’ who had no rights in Zimbabwe other than those bestowed by their employers (Moyo, et al 2000). This line of thought had been exploited by politicians since the late 1980s to disqualify farm workers from securing land rights in resettlement areas and elsewhere.

Yet studies from the 1970s to the present have demonstrated that the proportion of migrant farm workers has been steadily declining, from an estimated 54 per cent in the 1960s to about 26 per cent at present. This points to a steady decline of about 50 per cent over the past 30-40 years. Most so-called migrant workers are actually second or third-generation descendants of the migrants imported during the first half of the 20th century. Indeed, government-sponsored surveys corroborate the estimate that such workers now constitute little more than a quarter of the total farm workforce (Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, 1998, 2001). Other surveys conducted in the past five years confirm this diminishing proportion of ‘migrant’ farm workers (FCTZ, 2000). In the 2002 field study on which this report is based, the proportion of ‘migrants’ among farm workers was 29 per cent, almost within the 26-27 per cent range usually estimated (field interviews, October-November 2002). As table 4.3 shows, people of Mozambican descent comprised 12 per cent, of Malawian descent 11 per cent and of Zambian descent 5 per cent of the national farm labour force.

Table 4.3 Farm workers: country of origin of forebears

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