The Farm Workers
Who are the farm workers?
Mugabe’s discriminatory land seizure programme has not gone unnoticed by the world’s media, and much has been reported about what has happened to the white farm owners. More than 4,000 have been forced violently off the commercial farms and fewer than 300 remain on the land. However there is very little that is widely known about the plight of Zimbabwe’s forgotten farm workers who represent the Mike Campbell Foundation’s target beneficiary population.
The forefathers of up to 30% of the farm workers came originally from Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and other countries to find work. By the year 2000, most were second- or third-generation immigrants and were entitled to Zimbabwean nationality. After Mugabe lost the referendum in February 2000, the farm workers, who represented almost 20% of the country’s population, were viewed by ZANU PF as opposition MDC supporters. Potentially a significant anti-Mugabe voting bloc, it was clear that as many as possible needed to be disenfranchised. This was achieved with the introduction of the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2001, through which those of foreign extraction automatically forfeited their Zimbabwean citizenship within six months, which meant many were unable to vote. However, as a significant number had married local women who were entitled to vote, they continued to pose a threat.
The Mugabe regime’s strategy during all subsequent elections has been to instigate violent campaigns of intimidation against the entire farm worker population to stamp out support for the opposition. Forced to attend cruel re-education rallies known as “pungwes”, the farm-workers live in constant fear for their lives and those of their children, who are often recruited into the violent ranks of the ZANU PF paramilitary.
While many “indigenous” farm workers have fled to their families in the communal areas, those of alien origin have no communal homes or land in Zimbabwe to which they can gravitate in times of trouble. Consequently, they have been forced to remain on the commercial farms and are at the mercy of the “chefs” who have taken them over and who invariably view them as expendable. The chefs, typically government ministers or ZANU PF supporters who have been given the land as a reward for party loyalty, are reticent to allow anyone from “outside” to visit the farms. To do so would enable the outside world to glean an idea of the deprivation and degeneration that now defines rural Zimbabwe. Furthermore, since the farm workers are now living on contested land, entry to which is often blocked, they are frequently denied access to food aid. Thus abandoned, they are forced to live in abject poverty - with few rights and even fewer means to enforce them.
Most farm workers are now in dire straits and, in the areas where we are able to assist, the Mike Campbell Foundation is often their only lifeline.