The Situation of Commercial Farm Workers after Land Reform in Zimbabwe

This prompted a decision at the end of 2002 to form a Parliamentary Committee to investigate the magnitude of settlers’ problems and needs

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This prompted a decision at the end of 2002 to form a Parliamentary Committee to investigate the magnitude of settlers’ problems and needs.

5.3 Settlers, new farmers and farm workers

To what extent have social relations changed in the former commercial farming sector? The predominant relationship used to be that between 4,500 white landowners and 300,000 to 320,000 farm workers. Now it is between about 300,000 small-farmer households and about 30,000 black commercial farmers on the one hand, and the remaining farm workers and former workers on the other. There are no precise figures on how many farm workers remain, nor is it possible to trace where all the former workers are. But a new pattern of social relations is emerging. By and large, the ‘settlers’ and ‘new farmers’ have been the primary beneficiaries of land reform, while farm workers have mainly been ‘losers’. Whereas the authorities interpret the success of reform in terms of the relocation of 300,000 ‘settlers’, they say little about the fate of the 300,000 farm workers. The success of land reform should be judged on the basis of whether both sets of social groups benefited from it.

The relationship between settlers and farm workers was uneasy, if not hostile at the time of the land invasions in 2000 and 2001 (see Chapter 2). It was not difficult to see why. Farm workers appeared to stand between the settlers and their goal of wresting ownership from the white farmer. Hence the clashes that sometimes occurred between the two sides, and the settlers’ interest in disrupting production so that the farm owner would leave or share the land with them through subdivision. In a sense, farm workers acted as a kind of buffer between the farmer and the settlers. At the same time, the workers were hostages of the situation: they may have wanted land also, but they could not agitate for it openly and be seen to be joining the settlers. Some farm workers did join the settlers, not in their own workplace but on neighbouring farms, as was the case in the Matabeleland provinces (interviews, October 2002). For the majority of farm workers, however, this was not the main option. They hoped to hang on to their jobs or to receive land for resettlement in their own right.

Several years later, they must co-exist in an unequal relationship with the new arrivals. While the settlers and new farmers have entitlement to land, most farm workers do not. They often have to provide labour to the new landowners. In the course of our survey in Mashonaland Central, it was observed that :

… the new farmer looks down upon the ex-farm workers. The ex-farm workers are not in any way getting paid better than before …. (interviews, October 2002)

At another farm in the same province, the compound that housed farm workers had been designated and they were evicted by the new landowners. On another, the new farmer torched the houses of farm workers to evict them en masse. On the farms where they were not evicted, the number of jobs was often drastically reduced. This forced the workers ‘to use their houses as dormitories while they go searching for employment from farm to farm’ (interviews, October, 2002). This gives a picture of an itinerant, poor and unstable farm worker class — a vulnerable social group, almost destitute and constantly drifting, sometimes into informal settlements. Meanwhile, the settlers and new farmers blame the farm workers for bringing their present predicament upon themselves. For instance, interviewees reported that:

the new farmers have assumed a superior role which the white farmer used to enjoy over farm workers while the new settlers are of the opinion that the workers did not register to get land because they did not want to go against the white employer. (ibid)

The big difference in the new scenario is that for most workers job opportunities are far fewer and wages lower than before reform. Clearly, it will take several more years for the situation to stabilise. Other types of relationship besides that between the landowner and the worker may yet evolve. Besides providing wage-labour, farm workers may become new tenants or sharecroppers. Some new settlers may find it necessary to supplement their income from crops by selling their labour at more productive farms.

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