The Situation of Commercial Farm Workers after Land Reform in Zimbabwe

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Per cent










South Africa






Source: Field interviews, October-November 2002

How vulnerable have ‘migrant’ farm workers been following land reform? First, they (like most other workers) were not allocated land when they lost their jobs. Less than 5 per cent of farm workers were granted land. In October 2001, only about 2 per cent had been resettled (UNDP, 2002). This was despite the findings of a government-sponsored survey which reported that:

53 per cent of sampled farm workers prefer to be allocated plots of land for resettlement. Others (21 per cent) would like to be re-employed in similar activities. Given the high rate of unemployment in the economy, it could be assumed that the best option for this group is resettlement. (Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, 2001)

Representations from the labour union, GAPWUZ, about land for farm workers came to little as government largely ignored their case. It is difficult to determine what has happened to workers of foreign origin. An indication of their intentions can perhaps be found in survey findings on farm workers’ plans in the three Mashonaland provinces and Manicaland (FCTZ, 2002b). In Mashonaland Central, 56 per cent of displaced farm workers said they would stay on the farm, 16 per cent said they would leave for other farms, and 17 per cent planned to go to communal areas, while 4 per cent said they would seek land for resettlement (see Table 4.5). In Mashonaland East, 34 per cent intended to stay on at the farm, 17 per cent to leave for other farms and 46 per cent to leave for communal areas. In Manicaland, 53 per cent said they would stay on the farm, 30 per cent said they would leave for other farms and 11 per cent said they would go to communal areas.

It would have been useful to break down the responses so as to ascertain the preferences of workers of foreign origin. The proportion of those who intended to stay or seek work on other farms ranged from 51 per cent to 83 per cent. It would not be far-fetched to assume that ‘migrant’ workers would be strongly represented among those who intended to stay at the present or another farm. On the whole, these findings from a 2002 survey are quite different from the 2001 government survey mentioned above. But perhaps the simple explanation is that during the earlier survey workers might have thought that the government was serious about allocating land to farm workers. Later they would have realised this was a mistake.

Farm workers of foreign descent are more vulnerable than other groups because few of them have communal homes in the country to fall back on. Their ties with ancestral homes in the neighbouring countries from which they or their grand-parents came have become very weak at best, and non-existent at worst. This means that about 80,000 workers, who together with their families would make up a community of nearly a half million, are in limbo in the wake of land reform. There were a number of reports in 2002 that the authorities moved some farm workers to border areas in the Mashonaland Central province; others have been settled in the Mahuwe area of Muzarabani in Lower Zambezi Valley (field interviews, November, 2002). There was no conscious planning to meet their immediate and long-term needs.

Another vulnerable group are the elderly retired workers who normally remained on farms till they passed away. There was no social safety net for this group, except perhaps a tiny pension, and access to housing and land on the formerly white-owned commercial farms. It is not clear where this group of vulnerable former workers will be absorbed. A survey in 1997-98 estimated that about 40 per cent of permanent male workers had a rural home (FCTZ and FEWSNET, 1997-98). It may then be assumed that up to 128,000 workers, or 640,000 people when their families are included, would trek back to communal areas. Responses to the 2002 survey indicates that in reality, the proportion is likely to be lower. A considerable movement to the communal areas would defeat the whole purpose of land reform. The main purpose was to de-congest the communal areas so as to ensure their regeneration (Zimbabwe government,1990).

Women constitute yet another vulnerable social group among farm workers. They are the bulk of non-permanent workers; and they are rarely seen as workers in their own right (Amanor-Wilks, 1995). They account for less than 10 per cent of the permanent labour force in commercial farming. According to the Central Statistical Office (CSO), in 1999 the sector had 152,790 permanent male employees (90.3 per cent) and 16,460 permanent female employees (9.7 percent) (CSO, 2000). Female employees were concentrated among casual workers: they constituted 55 per cent of casual labour (see Table 4.4). Female casual labour tends to be concentrated in the horticulture sector.

Table 4.4 :Nature of employment in the agricultural sector

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