The Situation of Commercial Farm Workers after Land Reform in Zimbabwe

The context and broad impact of reform

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3. The context and broad impact of reform

The report situates its assessment of the conditions of farm workers in the broader framework of the land question and the historical development of farm worker communities. The land question centred on the inequitable distribution of land between black and white populations. The compelling case for land reform was that of historical redress. In particular, land redistribution was desirable as an outlet for small farmers in the congested communal areas, and for the increasing numbers of landless.

The report provides a historical overview of the development of farm workers. Initially migrant labour drawn from neighbouring countries, their wages, working and living conditions were often poor. By the 1970s, however, the majority of farm workers were indigenous black people, who at the start of the fast-track reform constituted about 75 per cent of the farm workforce. Although conditions on some farms improved in the 1990s, they did not have security of tenure or adequate social safety nets on retirement. A marginalised and vulnerable group, their political and social rights were restricted for many years.

In assessing the fast-track programme, the report shows how political and electoral calculations shaped the pace and direction of reform and explores the dynamics behind the various phases of the programme. The last phase of reform witnessed controversy over the allocation and ownership of model farms, leading to calls for a comprehensive audit of the programme.

The immediate consequences of the programme for crop production in the large-scale commercial sector include significant declines in output of maize (from 800,000 tonnes in 2000 to about 80,000 tonnes in 2003), wheat (from 225,000 tonnes in 2000 to less than 100,000 tonnes in 2003), soya beans (from 145,000 tonnes in 2000 to 30,000 in 2003) and tobacco (from 230 million kg in 2000 to about 70 million kg in 2003) (CFU, 2003). The declines will have profoundly negative consequences for the sector, gross domestic product (GDP) and foreign exchange earnings.

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