Survey of HR violations and losses on commercial farms

The Justice for Agriculture (JAG) Trust Zimbabwe

Reckless Tragedy: Irreverible?

A Survey of Gross Human Rights Violations and Losses Suffered by Commercial Farmers and Farm Workers in Zimbabwe from 2000 to 2008


Whilst the deleterious economic effects of the Zimbabwean Government’s “Fast Track Land Reform Programme” have received wide attention over the last few years, little has been done to comprehensively investigate the means by which some 4000 white commercial farmers and their families were forcibly evicted from their farms, or how a population of at least 1.3 million farm workers was subjected to 8 long years of political violence, intimidation and torture.

Indeed, the recent political agreement between the MDC and ZANU PF has not yet brought an end to the violence on the farms. At the time of writing this report farm seizures and political violence perpetrated by ZANU PF continue. Indeed the authors of this report believe that clause 5.5 of the agreement, which describes the “land reform” as “irreversible”, has actually encouraged the invasion of some of the last few remaining farms in an attempt to create a de facto situation whereby recent occupations too can be counted as “irreversible”.

The political agreement as it stands is too vague for any detailed commentary. However, a few points should be made:

• describing the “land reform” as “irreversible” negates any possibility of economic recovery for Zimbabwe
• farmers and farm workers, who drove the engine of Zimbabwe’s economy, should be involved in the country’s reconstruction
• farmers and farm workers should be considered in the allocation of land
• entrenching current occupations by A2 farmers rewards them for the violent means they used to evict the former owners in a majority of cases
• entrenching current occupations entrenches ZANU PF patronage structures.

It is imperative that the Government’s so called “Fast Track Land Reform Programme” is recognised, not as a somewhat flawed but nobly conceived exercise, but as a calamitous, painful and unnecessary tragedy. This tragedy cannot be reversed, but the first steps on the path towards healing and reconciliation will involve the new State’s investigation into the crimes committed in the name of “land reform” over the last 8 years; the prosecution of those guilty of the most serious crimes such as murder and rape, as well as the prosecution of those senior figures who either gave orders that such crimes be committed or who were in a position to stop the atrocities and did nothing; and finally, the financial compensation for losses sustained by victims as a result of these illegal actions.


This report describes the findings of a quantitative survey of human rights violations and consequential losses suffered by farmers and farm workers following land invasions in Zimbabwe from 2000 onwards. The survey forms one part of a series of research projects aimed at accurately documenting the crimes that took place on the farms throughout the Zimbabwean Government’s “Land Reform”. The five sections of the research project are as follows:

1. Qualitative survey of farmers
2. Quantitative survey of farmers (the present study)
3. Qualitative survey of farm workers
4. Quantitative survey of farm workers
5. Quantitative and Qualitative analysis of documentation obtained from farmers and farm workers.

A survey known as the “Damages Questionnaire” (“DQ” – see Appendix 1) was designed in early 2007 as a global survey to provide quantitative information on the following topics:

• Violations against farmers
• Violations against farm workers
• Efforts to use the justice system to protect farmers and their rights
• Damages and losses incurred by farmers
• Loss of support and services to commercial farm workers.

The DQ was designed to be completed by farmers and thus represents their views of the violations on their farms. A companion project is currently underway to obtain similar quantitative information from commercial farm workers.

The DQ was distributed via email to all members of the Justice for Agriculture Members Association (JAGMA) and also through direct contact with farmers in Harare. All surveys that were completed and returned were entered into a purpose-built Microsoft Access database, and then exported into Excel where the results were analysed.

Each record was individually verified in Excel to ensure the reliability of the data. Of the initial 481 respondents, 63 records were identified as being incomplete , unreliable  or duplicated  in other records. These were removed leaving a total of 418 records. In addition, several fields were removed as it was discovered that two slightly different versions of the DQ had circulated, and thus some respondents had answered questions that had not been put to others. All data that was not comparable from one DQ to another was removed from analysis. To a great extent this explains the minor disparities that exist between this consolidated report and the preliminary report, Injury in Addition to Insult, which was produced as an indicator of the results the project was likely to uncover.

These 418 records were then digitally linked with the geographical properties they referred to, using the Geographical Information System (GIS) software package ArcInfo.  In 32 cases, it was impossible to match the record to the correct property for one of the following reasons:

• the farm name in the record was an operating name but the ArcInfo shapefile used a title deed name, or vice versa
• ore than one farm of the same name existed in the same district
• the farm names in the ArcInfo shapefile were misspelt.

Thus a total of 386 records were matched with their appropriate properties for the purpose of GIS analysis, but the sample used for statistical purposes still consists of 418 records.

Issues arising from the Methodology

As this report will go on to make several estimates about the national situation by extrapolating from the records in our sample, it is important to discuss some of the shortfalls in the sampling technique.

Firstly, the sample was not randomized. An email was sent out to all JAGMA members and further contact was made directly with as many farmers as possible. No one was turned away or denied participation; all the returned DQs were entered into the database. This “shotgun” approach probably means that to some extent a degree of self-selection will be present in the sample.

Secondly, these DQ’s were in some instances filled out at JAG with the aid of office staff but in other cases were completed unassisted. Thus it is possible that some questions have been interpreted in different ways by those farmers who completed the survey unassisted . In addition, it is clear that there is a possible motivation in some instances for a farmer to exaggerate his or her circumstances.

It should be noted, however, that the qualitative research project which conducts narrative interviews with farmers has largely verified the extent of the violations described in the DQ’s.  The preliminary report on the qualitative research, “Destruction of Zimbabwe’s Backbone Industry in Pursuit of Political Power”, should be read in conjunction with this one. It gives a voice and identity to the hundreds of thousands of victims described here in numbers and statistics.

All these concerns will lead us to err on the side of caution when making estimates and predictions about the population of commercial farmers as a whole.

Finally, the survey data was entered over a period of two years but this report makes the assumption that the data remained static through time. As the situation on the ground for the commercial farmer is often volatile - witness the recent retributive post-election violence – this assumption does not always hold true. However, as we assume that the completion of a DQ means that no further losses, evictions or violence can take place on a farm, this will only serve to make our estimates even more conservative.

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