George Maponga in Masvingo
Sugarcane farmers in the Lowveld have reaffirmed their commitment against the use of child labour saying there were existing instruments to penalise members who engage children to work as labourers in Cane plantations.
The farmers said they were working closely with Lowveld sugar miller Tongaat Huletts Zimbabwe to make sure children were not employed to work in cane plantations.
This follows media reports that intimated that there was rampant use of child labour in the Lowveld cane plantations by new cane farmers.
Indigenous commercial sugar cane farmers who benefited under the land reform programme and Tongaat own plantations that straddle over 45 000hectares at Mkwasine, Triangle and Hippo Valley Estates.
The farmers said Zimbabwe had ratified the International Labor Organization(ILO) Convention on the use of child labour, hence the local sugar industry would never countenance the use of children as labourers in Lowveld cane fields.
Mkwasine Sugar Cane Farmers Association chair Rtd Lieutenant Colonel Dennis Masomere said it is mere propaganda meant to blemish the sugar industry by claiming that children are being used as labourers.
“Reports that there is the use of children in farms by new cane farmers are preposterous, to say the least, the reports are fictional because our farmers don’t use child labour, we are guided by our government that ratified the ILO Convention on child labour. We suspect this is simply propaganda meant to smear the local sugar industry,” he said.
Zimbabwe Sugar Cane Development Association spokesperson Mr Saul Chin’anga weighed in stressing that there is no way cane farmers could employ children to work in their plantations.
“We hold regular workshops and awareness campaigns where we conscientise members against using children as labourers on their farms and there is no evidence that we are using children on the farms as such culprits will be penalized.
“We have even made it a point that even our employees should our employees should not bring their children to their workplaces to reduce chances of them being misconstrued as farm labourers,” said Mr Chin’anga.
This was also corroborated by Triangle Mill Group committee member and Zimbabwe Sugar Sales Director Mr Darlington Chiwa who said those purveying lies about the use of child labour in cane plantations in Chiredzi are after cheap publicity.
“We don’t know where those who talk about child labour in the Lowveld cane fields stay because they must prove it, they must disclose that such and such farmer is using children as labourers because we don’t have that. It is clear this is an attempt to discredit the sugar industry by armchair critics who have never been to the ground.”
Mr Chiwa noted that the sugar industry in the Lowveld remained one of the key industries that remained anchoring the economy hence vain attempts to soil.it.by spreading lies.
More than 20 000 permanent and part-time labourers are employed in the Lowveld sugar industry with the majority providing labour in the labour-intensive cane fields.