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Monday, 1 May, 2000, 11:40 GMT 12:40 UK
Farm workers caught in the middle
Farm worker Patrick Muchidzuwa
Workers' homes are on land owned by farmers
By Grant Ferrett in Harare

Zimbabwe's estimated 400,000 farm workers have long been among the most vulnerable sectors of society.

Zimbabwe's farm workers
2 million workers

Many of them immigrants

Paid around US$25 a month

Heavily dependent on employers
Many are immigrants of Malawian or Mozambican origin and have few, if any, legal rights.

Wages are generally low (about US$25 a month) and living conditions on the farm sometimes poor.

In the absence of any functioning social security system, the labourers are heavily dependent on their employers, relying on them for free or heavily subsidised housing and health care, as well as education for their children.

In all, about 2m people live on commercial farms.


In recent weeks, though, they have become far more exposed not to abuse by their employers but to violence by government supporters who will stop at nothing to ensure that the ruling party, Zanu-PF, wins forthcoming parliamentary elections.

Patrick Muchidzuwa
Employees stand to lose their livelihood if farms are divided up
A clear strategy has emerged. First, white commercial farmers, particularly those who supported the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, were targeted for illegal occupation by squatters led by the Zimbabwe National War Veterans' Association.

They were told they could live in safety on their farms only if they did not engage in politics or discuss political matters with their workers.

Next, the workers themselves became the focus of a campaign of what Zanu-PF activists called "re-education" - in other words, intimidation and violence.


Workers' houses have been burnt down and their belongings looted. Those wearing opposition t-shirts are savagely beaten.

Worker is treated in hospital
Farm workers have been assaulted and murdered by government supporters
Several farm labourers have been doused with fuel and set alight, and there are growing reports of women being raped by government supporters who have rampaged through workers' compounds.

Those working for farmers who were known MDC activists are particularly at risk. David Stevens, a vocal MDC supporter, was the first of two white farmers to be murdered by government followers.

His workers fled in fear of their lives. It was only a week later that the body of David Stevens's foreman was discovered. The workers, all of whom have yet to return to the farm, have lost their jobs and their homes.


State-run television now shows Zanu-PF rallies almost every night, with pictures of hundreds of bemused looking farm labourers chanting pro-government slogans.

Worker's family on farm
Workers' families rely on employers for their welfare
This is the price which must be paid to be left in peace by the War Veterans and their colleagues from the ruling party's youth wing, whose appetite for violence seems to increase by the day.

The farm workers' union regularly complains that the interests of its members are being overlooked in the current crisis.

Opposition pledge

If the government were to allocate land to its supporters, the farm workers and their families would be displaced.

Farms which currently employ an average of about 100 workers as well as housing their dependents would be divided into subsistence plots providing no employment.

The opposition insists that land reform would be second on its list of priorities - after the economy - if it were to win the general election, and that any programme would have to take account of the farm labourers.

If such words were translated into action, it would probably be the first time that any government had taken seriously the needs of this long-forgotten part of Zimbabwean society.

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See also:

20 Apr 00 | Africa
Violence flares in Zimbabwe
13 Apr 00 | Africa
Is Mugabe's strategy working?
05 Apr 00 | Africa
Eyewitness: Forced off the farm
19 Apr 00 | Business
Zimbabwe's economy under threat
21 Apr 00 | Africa
Thousands join Zimbabwe march
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