The Situation of Commercial Farm Workers after Land Reform in Zimbabwe

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4. Effects on workers’ livelihoods

Drawing on field material gathered in October and November 2002 in eight provinces, the report explores the effects of land reform on employment and workers’ livelihoods. About 90 per cent of the 160 farms surveyed had experienced a halt or drastic decline in production, and hence in employment, following the receipt of eviction orders from the government. Exceptions to the evictions and decline were large estates and plantations engaged in tea, coffee, sugar and livestock production, and those operating in export processing zones.

The overall picture is one of massive job losses — affecting about 70 per cent of the original farm workforce. More precise estimates are not possible. The loss of permanent worker status on farms is widespread. There is a pronounced trend towards contract or piece-work arrangements. Both the newly resettled small farmers and ‘new’ large commercial farmers lack the financial resources and production capacity to absorb the former permanent workers.

However, despite the large job losses, a considerable proportion of farm workers remain living on the farms. There is evidence to suggest that up to 50 per cent of farm workers stayed on even if they no longer held jobs. In general, female workers suffered greater loss of employment. The survey data suggests that more than 50 per cent of permanent female workers and nearly 60 per cent of seasonal female workers lost their jobs. This compares with 30 and 33 per cent respectively for permanent and seasonal male workers. The data also indicate a decline in permanent and seasonal female workers (by 63 per cent and 42 per cent respectively) living on farms. That substantial proportion of female and male workers no longer living on farms must be experiencing considerable hardship, wherever they are now.

In the survey sample, only about a quarter of the farm workers who lost jobs had received severance packages by the end of 2002. The packages would have cushioned them against loss of income, at least for a few months. Those who did not receive packages expect to seek piece-work and other income-earning opportunities. In sum, the loss of a regular job-based income has undermined the livelihoods of most farm worker households.

An unfortunate development is farm workers’ diminishing access to crucial resources and services. Change in farm ownership has restricted access to housing, schools, clinics and safe water. Where a farm owner has been evicted, the running and maintenance of the school and payment of the teaching staff often cease, leading to the school’s closure. Most early child education centres (ECECs) have also been closed down, as have farm clinics.

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