Misery for former farm workers in Beatrice

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by Admire Mutize, Chitownews reporter.

Fifteen years after the Zimbabwean government launched the fast-track land reform program which ejected minority white commercial farmers from prime farm land and replaced them with new black land owners/farmers; the overwhelming majority of former commercial farm workers in the Beatrice farming area have no title to land. They subsist in a legal grey area were even their right of residence on farms which they have worked on for generations is not recognized by the new black farm owners who hold the all important offer letters from the Ministry of Lands.

In a survey carried out by Chitownews team in 2016 with the team recording a total of forty-two cases of Former Farm Workers and their families who are embroiled in legal disputes with the new land owners in the five farms they visited in the Beatrice Farming area (see map above). Thirty-three of the affected families had lost their cases in the Magistrates court and had been issued with eviction orders.

The survey showed the contested nature and political dynamics of Zimbabwe’s agrarian reform with political polarization between the new farm owners- allied to the ZANU PF party- and the former farm workers perceived to be opposition sympathizers. It also noted that the new farm owners generally regard former farm workers as ‘unwanted intruders and illegal settlers on their farms’ despite the fact that generations of their descendants and their families had lived on the farms prior to the land reform program.

“They say we came here to work for the white man and should have left with him. They say we supported the white man against the black people during the land reform struggle” said one female lady who is her sixties.

“If I may ask, who was not working for the white man before the land reform program. They too were working for whites in factories in Harare yet they make it a sin that we worked for whites in these farms”, continued the woman.

The survey proved that lack of access to secure land tenure is perpetuating extreme poverty, hopelessness and despair in the former farm workers community in the Beatrice Farming area. It also noted that without secure land tenure, former farm workers cannot build housing or maintain their houses since their continued occupancy is uncertain. They are forbidden from building new homes to shelter their growing families.

In most instances, they have access to small pieces of land averaging an acre to grow food for their families. They cannot utilize the abundant arable land for commercial agricultural activities denying them the opportunity to earn decent sustainable livelihoods by exploiting the farming skills they learnt from their departed white employers.

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