The Situation of Commercial Farm Workers after Land Reform in Zimbabwe

The ‘new settlers’ and ‘new farmers’

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5.2 The ‘new settlers’ and ‘new farmers’

It is a sign of changed times and circumstances that there is a new vocabulary to denote the small farmers, often from communal areas, who have been resettled on former white commercial farm-land. They are often termed ‘settlers’ by virtue of having taken over that land. The term for aspirant indigenous farmers is ‘new farmers’. They have been allocated larger pieces of formerly white-owned commercial farmland. It is a strange slip or irony of history that today’s indigenous small farmers are called ‘settlers’, once a derogatory reference to the white population. But then the land reform has spawned a variety of other terminology,: from ‘Third Chimurenga’ to ‘jambanja’, from ‘agrarian revolution’ to ‘hondo yeminda’ (war for land) and ‘fast-track reform’, as we observed.

What are the current conditions of settlers? The government claimed that about 300,000 settler-households had moved on to new land. They came from communal areas, but also came from cities and towns. A few, less than 5 per cent, were farm workers. However, some analysts have expressed scepticism (in the absence of an independent audit) that the new settlers number about 300,000, as some did not take up the land allocated to them. The survey conducted for this report had a small sample of settlers, but nevertheless provided some interesting impressions.

A series of focus group discussions was held with settlers at four resettled farms in Masvingo, two in Mashonaland East and one in Matabeleland South. At the Masvingo farms, most of the settlers moved on to the land in 2000. The average number of settlers to a farm was about 45 (field interviews, October 2002). Each household was allocated about five hectares for cultivation. A committee elected by the settlers had a chairman, a vice-chairman, a secretary, a treasurer and two other members. There was also a technical advisor and sometimes representatives of youth and women were on the committee. Most of these committees were linked to ZANU-PF. The functions of these committees included, in the words of their members: ‘to listen to the people’s grievances’; ‘to address the people’s problems’; ‘to lead the community’; and ‘to register all the people when meetings with government officials are called or when there is food distribution’ (interviews, October 2002). At the Mashonaland East farms, the committees included kraal heads and a secretary for security. An additional role for the committee was ‘to monitor any movements in the area’. The average area of land for each settler was six hectares, plus eight hectares for grazing.

In the survey sample of 160 farms, 75 had been turned over to resettlement for small farms while 85 were subdivided into farms under the A2 model. Seventy of the A1 farms were owned by males, and only five by females. In other words, 93 per cent of the A1 model beneficiaries in our sample were male, and 6 per cent were female. This finding contrasts with the national pattern, which suggested that about 16 per cent of beneficiaries were female (UNDP, 2002). It would appear, nevertheless, that the new land ownership pattern under the A1 model may be reproducing the gender distribution of ownership in the existing communal areas. This reflects a strong patriarchal domination in land ownership.

However, the emerging pattern of land ownership under the A2 model appears slightly different from our sample. Female ownership of the land under this model stands at 12 per cent. Although this is still relatively low, it is better than that for A1 farms. The A2 farms are comparatively larger, and require more substantial resources to turn them into productive assets. If this trend in ownership of A2 model farms were replicated nationwide, then female ownership would be significant, even if it is far less common than male ownership.

In our survey findings, 50 per cent of beneficiaries of A2 model farms came from urban areas. They have had very little or no farming experience although they may be in a better position to access credit and other vital inputs. It remains to be seen, however, whether the A2 model farms will be transformed into productive units in the near and medium term. Given the strong urban roots of this set of beneficiaries, they are likely to be seen as ‘telephone farmers’. They will need to work hard to shake off that image.

In general, the settlers shared a common problem of inadequate infrastructure and inputs to enable them to use their land fully. A common problem was lack of draught-power and labour. As noted at one resettled farm: ‘the soil is too heavy, it also needs a tractor; they cannot pull it with cattle, and that is why most of them will only plant four hectares (interviews, October 2002). At a farm in Masvingo, settlers had been able to use only half of the land area owing to insufficient inputs (including seed and fertiliser) and labour. Some of them relied on hired draught-power. Access to water was another major constraint: none of the settlers could afford irrigation facilities. These constraints confirm the strength of one thread of critique of the fast-track programme: the absence of rigorous planning and technical backup. In several discussion groups, it was stated that some settlers had since returned to their original homes owing to hardship.

These initial handicaps may be related to a profile of 11 ‘new farmers’ covered in our study. Half of them had come from communal areas, a third from urban areas and the remainder from a commercial farm (interviews, October 2002). Most of them (six) had planted maize while two had planted wheat and one was growing tobacco. The limited effort to produce cash crops is worrying.

A more acute crisis in 2002 related to shortage of food among the ’new settlers’. Having harvested little, owing partly to the drought, they depended mainly on supplies from the GMB or purchases in the market. One observer said:

food is not available on a regular basis. They cut down on meals to one a day if it is a household of adults … Cases of malnutrition are high amongst children … They are surviving on wild fruits … Some families have moved away because of starvation, and it is said that one family died of hunger … (interviews, October 2002)

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