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Land invasions haunting farm labourers

I live in the rural areas and I am trying to make a living from growing a small crop of tobacco. Walking around the farms that were invaded by war veterans, Robert Mugabe’s cronies and supporters, what one sees is unexpected, one is genuinely surprised to see how the rural economy is in precipitous decline and farm labour has been totally displaced. 

My father was a farm worker and before the invasions he managed to send us to school, but after the invasions my siblings even failed to complete secondary education because the new employers were failing to pay my father his paltry wage.

The situation is further exacerbated by the fact that my mother lost her job as a domestic worker on a farm to help father. In general, female workers suffered as great a loss of employment. The overall picture is one of massive job losses.

Production on the once productive farms has sharply deteriorated and farm workers are bearing the effects of the change - going for months without wages- more than a decade after Zanu PF led government invaded farms.

After the violent invasions my father worked for more than three new black farmers who grabbed the land from white commercial farmers. All of them inconsistent in paying wages.  More than half of the newly resettled farmers are failing to pay a paltry monthly wage of $59 per month to their farm workers more than a decade into the business.  Some of the new farmers can go up to 17 or even more months without paying, but they are harvesting and selling their crops.

The loss of a regular job-based income has undermined the livelihoods of most farm worker households. The working conditions and wages on the farms of small and new commercial farmers are unattractive.

An unfortunate development is farm workers' diminishing access to crucial resources and services. Change in farm ownership has restricted access to housing, schools, clinics and safe water. Where a farm owner has been evicted, the running and maintenance of the school and payment of the teaching staff often ceased, leading to the school's closure. Most early child education centres (ECECs) have also been closed down, as have farm clinics.

In response to the loss of permanent jobs and access to shelter and social services, my father and other farm workers have pursued a number of coping strategies. These include wandering in search of piece-work jobs at different farms at different times, informal trade, gold panning, fishing and hunting. Income from these activities is irregular and limited, but the workers appear to have no other options.

Land reform has had a direct impact on food security at national level as well as on farm workers' requirements. The disruptions associated with 'land invasions' further undermined crop production. For jobless farm workers, access to food has been difficult and irregular. Food aid has been made available to some of those without a livelihood, and to children under five and those of school age.  But it is never enough.

Like other social groups, farm workers have been vulnerable to the HIV-AIDS epidemic. The prevalence rate among them in the 20-49 year age group is estimated at higher than 25 per cent. The consequences include a rise in the number of orphans and child-headed households. Extended family and nuclear family structures are under severe stress as household assets are drawn upon to treat people with AIDS-related sicknesses. Resources and home-based care institutions for the sick are very limited.

Other vulnerable groups in the farm worker community include migrant workers and their descendants, women, the elderly, youth and children. Most migrant workers or their descendants have no communal homes, land or jobs to fall back on. There is no social safety net for the elderly and retired workers, or for women concentrated in insecure, seasonal jobs.

I do not believe we can go back, but when are the leaders of our nation going to take us forward?

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