Zimbabwe: Displaced farm workers face destitution

BINDURA, 5 June (IRIN) - Rose Dube has already lost her job and stands to lose her home within the next eight weeks. She smiles nervously when asked what will become of her two children. Rose once worked on a commercial farm in northern Zimbabwe, one of the 550 properties seized from their white owners under President Robert Mugabe's "fast track" land resettlement programme. Now she risks joining the casualties of the controversial land campaign.
The government took Dundry farm near Bindura, 80 km north of Harare, last month and divided the 500 hectare property between 100 settlers. The new owners, mainly veterans of the war against white rule and supporters of the ruling ZANU-PF party, have already pegged out all of its land. Yet the 60 people who once worked at Dundry have been summarily ordered to leave their homes by August. Their 137 children under the age of 16 will be uprooted, together with 16 orphans and seven elderly people. In total, a community of 286 people will be displaced. "I don't know how we will survive with our families. I don't know what will happen. At the moment, I'm very confused," Rose Dube told IRIN.

Along with all of Dundry's former workers, Rose has applied for land from the government. She said: "They promised us we would get land, so I just hope that will happen." Yet the evidence suggests that her application has a slim chance of success. According to the mainly-white Commercial Farmers' Union (CFU), only 10 percent of the three million hectares acquired by the government so far has been given to former farm workers. The General Agricultural and Plantation Workers' Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) estimates that only three of every 500 people resettled under the "fast track" scheme are displaced workers.

Without a job, a home or land, Rose, who is eight months pregnant, will struggle to support her son of 12 and daughter of 9. Her chances of finding another job in a collapsing economy, with unemployment exceeding 60 percent, are minimal. Together with the other former labourers at Dundry farm, she faces destitution.

About 500 people have been resettled on Dundry and, in this case, there are almost twice as many winners as losers. Yet the national picture is far worse. The government claims to have resettled 70,000 families on the farms acquired so far. According to GAPWUZ, 50,000 workers and their families have been displaced in the process. Philip Munyanyi, general-secretary of GAPWUZ, has lobbied the government to give more land to displaced workers. Yet his efforts have been ignored. "Farm workers are not being given land. No attention is being paid to their needs. It is a disastrous situation. They are just creating poverty," Munyani told IRIN.

The deepening poverty experienced by former labourers has a ripple effect on the entire country. An unprecedented economic slump means that almost none will find jobs in the formal sector. Most stream into the communal areas, placing more pressure on the poorest communities in Zimbabwe. Women in the communal areas have the biggest responsibility for working the fields and growing food. But the AIDS epidemic and the growing number of orphans have added to their burdens and reduced the amount of time they can devote to work. A government study last year indicated that the productivity of individual women has fallen by between 50 and 65 percent. To these burdens must now be added thousands of impoverished farm workers.

Diane Auret, interim chairperson of the Farm Orphans' Support Trust, said: "The communal lands have reduced capacity to absorb them and if they have to share land with them, it makes the problem of overcrowding even worse." The stated purpose of Mugabe's land campaign is to alleviate poverty in congested communal areas. Yet by displacing farm workers, the policy could actually be self-defeating.

Commercial farms provide homes and basic help for thousands of disadvantaged people. On average, 11 orphans live on every farm. Whenever the government resettles a property, the orphans, most of whom have lost their parents to AIDS, are generally the first to disappear without trace. Many farmers provide their workers with schools and all offer basic healthcare. Once displaced workers lose these services, the government does not have the means to replace them. Auret asked: "So who's going to address the needs of these people? The NGOs can only do so much, so what's going to happen to these people? It's a dreadful scenario."

Over 2,800 commercial farms have been listed for "compulsory acquisition". Perhaps 200,000 workers and their dependants, about 1.5 million in total, live on these farms. If they are displaced and only a handful are given land, Zimbabwe faces a social catastrophe. Analysts say only a gradual land reform programme, helped by generous donor funding, could manage a smooth transition without creating more poverty.

But donors have shunned President Robert Mugabe's approach and accused his government of placing the political imperative of resettling land as swiftly as possible above the goal of poverty alleviation. If the worst scenario comes about and hundreds of thousands are displaced, land reform for millions of rural Zimbabweans could become a "fast track" to poverty and destitution.


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