Invisible Suffering of Farm Workers – 2009

If something is wrong...

The invisible suffering of commercial farm workers and their families due to “Land Reform”.

We may have different skin colours but if something wrong is being done it upsets everyone.

Report produced for the General Agricultural & Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe [GAPWUZ]

by the Research and Advocacy Unit [RAU] and the Justice For Agriculture [JAG] Trust


This  report  presents  the  findings  of  preliminary  quantitative and  qualitative  surveys  of workers on  commercial farms in  the wake of  the catastrophic “Land Reform” policy  in Zimbabwe.  Whilst  the  companion  reports 1    produced  from  this  series  of  projects  have received some attention, this report is the first to deal solely with data gathered from the farm workers themselves. It represents the views of only a small section of the 1.8 million2  people that lived and worked on Zimbabwe’s commercial farms. However, the continued gathering of data means that in time we will be able to paint a detailed picture of the lives of farm workers across the country, as they struggled over the last nine years with State-sponsored invasions, torture, violent assaults, murders, rapes, evictions and other violations of the law and their rights. For the moment,  though, the data presented here makes no claim to be statistically representative.

Nevertheless,  what  emerges  makes  sobering  reading.  The  prevalence  of  human  rights violations recorded by the sample in this survey is disturbing. The data also shows that earlier estimates by farmers of the  violations experienced by  their workers appear to be largely consistent with estimates made by the workers themselves. This lends further credibility to extremely high figures of violation prevalence. The fact, for  example, that 1 in 10 of the present respondents report at least one murder amongst fellow farm workers, and that 38% of respondents report that children on the farms were forced to watch public beatings or torture, shows  the extent to which Robert Mugabe’s regime is responsible for an extensive series of crimes  that  were  both  widespread and  systematic:  the very  definition  of crimes against humanity.

Whilst this claim has been made, and rightfully, many times about the disregard by Mugabe and his ZANU-PF supporters  for human life, it is nowhere more apparent than in relation to the situation on  Zimbabwe’s farms. The evidence indicates clearly that the Zimbabwean “Land  Reform” was not, as ZANU-PF would have people believe: a socially responsible exercise where an unfortunate few white farmers became regrettable but necessary ‘collateral damage’ as precious State resources were munificently redistributed to the poor and needy. It was, rather, a violent, State-sponsored and systematic attack on 1.8 million people in order to wipe out any illusions of political freedom they might have cherished, to force them into the ranks of  strict  ZANU-PF  orthodoxy  and  to  prevent  them  from lending support  to  the fledgling Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party.

In this report, and in the other reports from the companion projects, the term “Land Reform” appears  throughout in inverted commas. This is because “Land Reform” has not been the salutary restructuring of land ownership and agricultural production that the term suggests. A huge proportion of land remains in the hands of wealthy politically connected “A2” farmers3 , effectively changing the skin colour of the old dispensation, but maintaining the wealth gap between rich and poor. Political patronage has resulted in all the land – and the word ‘all’ is used advisedly – being allocated to ZANU-PF supporters. Under the current dispensation, these occupiers do not own the land, or even lease it, and can be evicted from the property at any moment, without notice. Possession is entirely dependent upon the goodwill and whims of ZANU-PF  Government officials. This patronage system further demands and enforces fealty by the holders of land to ZANU-PF.

This report also questions, as the others have before, the net increase in the number of people living on the land in the wake of “Land Reform”. Even if Government’s own figure of 350 000 families  being  resettled  is  taken   as  accurate  –  not  necessarily  always  the  case  with Government’s  figures –  this report  should  awaken  suspicion about  the number  of farm workers displaced from the farms. Only a third of the current sample are still living on a farm. This almost certainly  points to mass displacements on a vast scale, not matched by  the numbers resettled.

In addition, it  should be noted  that  this report  is  primarily concerned with a  particular subsection of the  human rights violations that have been perpetrated against farm workers. Whilst the focus here is on violations of physical integrity and political freedoms, many other human  rights have also  been  violated.  For example,  here only  brief mention is made of violations of the rights to security of employment, work, health,  shelter, education, food, water,  sanitation  or information, or  of  the denial of  basic freedoms  such  as  freedom  of association or freedom of expression.

Finally, though, it ought to be remembered that the current report does not make national claims. The sample size is too small and it is geographically skewed. Indeed, it is our wish that the victims of the “Land Reform” programme be heard in their full individuality, as well as in the collective voice of the statistical mass. It is for this reason that this report presents representative narratives from the victims as examples of the statistics discussed.

Data collection continues, and each completed survey adds further evidence of the scale and nature of the  gross human rights violations  that have taken place in the name of “Land Reform” in Zimbabwe, one of the clearest examples of the Government’s several crimes against humanity.

 click here for full report