via Ex-farm workers’ families, 14 years on – NewsDay Zimbabwe June 4, 2014 by Tapiwa Zivira
The weary -faced little boy makes the last slow steps towards the entrance to the small passage between the two tobacco-curing barns.
Despite the signs of being weather-beaten and neglected, the two brick and mortar barns — built over three decades ago — tower above the few pole and dagga shacks built in the surrounding space.
It is these barns that now shelter over a hundred former farm workers who were displaced during the government’s land reform exercise that started 14 years ago.
When this Chigwell Farm was re-allocated to a new farmer nearly a decade ago, the barns were never used again for tobacco-curing purposes.
To make these giant tunnel-shaped sheds habitable, the ex-farm workers have constructed compartments using brick and mortar, plastic or fabric curtains and makeshift doors are lined up on each side of the passage.
It is in one of these compartments that the little boy, who we later learn is called Martin, lives together with his two siblings and parents.
EVERYDAY IS A STRUGGLE
With a hoe about the same length as his height suspended on his left shoulder, Martin (12) manages to crack a weak smile as he walks into a dimly-lit room situated on the other end of the passage.
For him, this is the end of yet another day of scrounging for piece-jobs in farms surrounding their compound and when there are none available, he resorts to digging for mice that he roasts and sells along the Harare-Bulawayo Highway.
On a good day — which he says is rare — he can make up to $5, enough to buy small quantities of basics such as sugar, cooking oil and salt.
“I sometimes go to other farms like kwaBeattie looking for maricho (piece jobs) and during this winter season, it is usually slow as it is off the main rain season and if I am lucky, I get winter wheat farmers who require some labour,” he says as he sifts through what looks like a mealie-meal sack, ready to prepare the family’s supper.
Very soon, his mother will arrive from her vegetable stall in the main Chegutu town, 10 kilometres away.
Martin’s father Loti, a former Chigwell general labourer, now makes and sells wooden cooking utensils (migoti nemisika) and his major market is in Chegutu and Kadoma, some 20 kilometres away.
The combined hardships stemming from Loti’s loss of employment and the 2008 economic meltdown forced Martin out of school at second grade.
The increasing poverty forced the boy — whose situation is similar to hundreds of thousands of other ex-farm workers’ families countrywide — to look for work to supplement family income.
CHILD LABOUR PROBLEMS
According to Maplecroft, a global risk analytics organisation, Zimbabwe is grouped together with conflict-torn countries such as Sudan, Burma, and Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia as some of “the countries with the worst child labour problems”.
A global perspective
Worldwide, there are 215 million children engaged in child labour, according to International Labour Organisation.
“There are many forms of child labour worldwide. Children are engaged in agricultural labour, in mining, in manufacturing, in domestic service, types of construction, scavenging and begging on the streets. Others are trapped in forms of slavery in armed conflicts, forced labour and debt bondage (to pay off debts incurred by parents and grandparents) as well as in commercial sexual exploitation and illicit activities, such as drug trafficking and organized begging and in many other forms of labour… For some work, children receive no payment, only food and a place to sleep. Children in informal sector work receive no payment if they are injured or become ill, and can seek no protection if they suffer violence or are maltreated by their employer.” ILO
Canada-based human rights activist Gertrude Hambira, who was general-secretary of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Gapwuz) at the height of the land reform exercise said an estimated less than 50 000 people are currently employed in the agriculture sector, compared to the
200 000 before the land reform programme started in 2000.
“This means about a 150 000 workers were left with no source of livelihood,” she said.
Most farm workers are descendants of immigrants who came to do farm labour from Malawi and Zambia in the 1950s.
The immigrants were offered accommodation in farm compounds (known as makomboni), which were constructed and owned by their employer farmers.
“As a result the farm workers did not only lose jobs, but their homes as well because a majority of the newly-resettled farmers reclaimed the compounds,” said Hambira.
assimilating, as “Zimbabweans”In their research, Gapwuz noted that 71 percent of their respondents claimed they had been forcefully evicted from their farm compounds, and 92 percent of these were not given notice period to move out
Hambira added that among the problems faced by the ex-farm workers, the risks associated with children dropping out of school were the worst.
“Once a child is out of school they are prone to child labour because they have to help supplement family income by taking up the low-paying part-time jobs, especially during the peak of the agriculture season.”
“Because they have no bargaining skills, children often work for wages that are way below the minimum wages.”
The current monthly minimum wage for general agriculture workers, as set by the National Employment Council for Agriculture, is $65.
“Government must put in place measures to combat child labour by stipulating that a farmer taking over a farm must accommodate all the workers and by reducing the costs of education.”
Labour experts note that the current law does not give an incoming farmer the responsibility to accommodate workers.
YOUNG GIRLS RESORT TO PROSTITUTION
Sadly, some girl children end up being sucked into the dangerous whirlpool of prostitution risking their lives.Following information obtained at Chigwell Farm, NewsDay visited some of the business centres in Chegutu’s high-density Pfupajena suburb where the complexity of the challenges facing children of former farm workers came to light.Scantily dressed girls, some looking younger than 16, could be seen abusing alcohol and selling their bodies.Chegutu provides a strong client base for the sex workers as the town is one of the main stop-overs for truckers and other travellers using the Harare-Bulawayo-Botswana route, and has some of the cheapest lodges.One of the girls revealed to NewsDay who indicated that they operate under the instructions of a guide “big sister”.According to the girl, the “big sister” among other things, provides medical advice including morning-after drugs teaches them “how to please men” and helps protect them from abuse for a fee.
But the protection does not guarantee freedom from abuse as the girls constantly face various forms of abuse.“Although we are trained to insist on safe sex, some men forced us to do it without condoms,” said the girl.Observations in several peri-urban parts — Chegutu, Norton and Murombedzi — have revealed there has been an increasing trend where young girls are recruited into commercial sex work syndicates run by adults who work as agents.Chegutu West Ward 9 councillor Edward Dzeka said the trend is a direct result of the loss of jobs in farming communities surrounding the town.Another big challenge is limited access to HIV and Aids education and treatment.Writing in a Development Policy Analysis titled A Decade of Suffering in Zimbabwe: Economic Collapse and Political Repression, former Education minister David Coltart noted: “During the land reforms that began in 1999, there was a decrease in access to education and healthcare due to the deterioration of the economy.”
‘REVISIT LAND REFORM’
Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary-general Japhet Moyo said the neglect of farm workers shows a serious flaw in the execution of the land reform exercise.
Moyo said the labour movement would have loved to see government providing land to the workers.
“The reason why we have ‘cellphone’ farmers, those who do their agriculture over the phone from the comfort of their city homes, is because they chased out farm workers who knew how to work the land,” he said.
Moyo said had the ordinary farm workers been allocated land, “they would be producing the same way they did because they are well-versed with agriculture systems”. Gapwuz estimates that less than 5 % of farm workers benefitted from the land reform exercise.