The plight of displaced farm workers in Zimbabwe

In 2000, the Government of Zimbabwe, led by President Robert Mugabe and the ZANU-PF political party, embarked upon a program of radical land redistribution designed to address the inequalities of land ownership in Zimbabwe. In the aftermath of this program, the production of food has dropped and the economy has been crippled by skyrocketing inflation. The farm worker population prior to the program was variously estimated at between 325,000 to 450,000 workers, who supported a population of between 1.5 to 2 million people. It has been estimated that 78% of farm workers have lost their jobs.
Many of the new settlers on the former commercial farms refuse to or cannot pay minimum wage to farm workers. They are accused by the former farm workers of using intimidation, hunger, and other methods to get the farm workers to work for them in "slave labor" conditions. Relations between new settlers and former farm workers are often quite antagonistic. Many of these farm workers are "internally trapped" rather than "internally displaced," as they cannot afford to leave the farms or are sometimes trapped there by government forces.

HIV/AIDS, TB, and diarrheal diseases are prevalent on the farms as access to clean water, food, and health care, never good before the Land Reform, is extremely limited.

Some former farm workers have been displaced by the land reform program and have fled to their traditional rural lands or into peri-urban areas around Harare. Former farms, like Porta Farm, have turned into squatter camps where displaced former farm workers have moved. The camps are overcrowded and lacking in basic sanitary services. However, unlike the "internally trapped," these displaced people are able to access some education services and a mobile health clinic. These services are being threatened by the government, however, as it begins to clamp down on any populations that can be held up as visible examples of the failure of the land reform program.

A survey among pregnant women in 2000, when the land reform program was just starting, showed a HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 53.9% among farming communities. The lack of reliable income and increased insecurity brought by the land reform program has increased the susceptibility of former farm workers to HIV/AIDS. Some of the former farm workers that Refugees International interviewed reported that many female farm workers were not paid "severance packages" when the farmers left and had to resort to many risky strategies to survive. Some had turned to prostitution and others had formed sexual alliances with farm foremen or new settlers in order to be guaranteed some sort of farm employment to feed their children. In addition, these women that RI interviewed said that the combination of transportation costs to nearby towns and the costs of condoms and birth control pills were too high for them to pay for. When faced with choosing between safe sex or feeding their families, they chose unsafe sex.

The high rate of HIV/AIDS has caused a very high orphan population on most of the farms. It is estimated that there are anywhere from 900,000 to 1.2 million orphans in Zimbabwe. A local NGO, which works in three provinces, estimated that there was an average of 12 orphans per commercial farm. Most orphans lose their access to education as they are unable to pay the school fees or buy mandatory school uniforms. Older orphans are drifting to towns to work as prostitutes and to add to the expanding street-children population. There is also an increase of child labor as employers seeking cheap labor are exploiting desperate orphans.