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Families of Former Zimbabwe Farm Workers Face Difficulties - 2004-10-07

Most of Zimbabwe's farm workers who lost their livelihood more than four years after the country's controversial land reform program was implemented, are still struggling to make a living.

It is estimated that 350,000 of the people who worked on white commercial farms lost their jobs when their employers were forcibly removed from their land.

While some are now working for the new farmers, there are some who were left without a source of income. A farm worker who spoke to VOA on condition of anonymity said most of the about 30 former workers on his farm and their families are facing an uncertain future because of lack of employment.

He says that since the departure of his former employer in 2001, he and some of his colleagues have worked on surrounding farms until those commercial farmers were kicked off their land.

The man says he now provides for his family of five by taking on occasional part-time jobs. He says he is one of the lucky ones because he got a piece of land, but he lacks the necessary tools to till the land and money to buy seed and fertilizer.

It is getting increasingly difficult for workers to provide food for their families. As a result, aid agencies have stepped up their efforts by providing food programs at some of the farm schools.

At one school, the headmaster, who also requested anonymity, said for some of the nearly 600 students, the cornmeal/soya blend porridge they receive once a day is often the only meal they have.

A 12-year-old pupil at the school agreed, saying food at home was so scarce that sometimes his six siblings and their parents do not have anything to eat.

According to the newsletter of the Farm Community Trust of Zimbabwe, an organization that looks after the interests of vulnerable groups in farming areas, more than 120,000 children in four of the country's 10 provinces where the Trust operates are benefiting from the program.

A spokesperson for another non-governmental organization said it is difficult for such groups to give accurate numbers and the degree of need because they are denied access to the areas by pro-government groups. "They say we are anti-land reform," says the spokesperson who asked not to be named.

The government of Zimbabwe has stopped aid agencies from giving the needy handouts, claiming that the country harvested enough grain to feed everybody this year. About half of Zimbabwe's population of 12 million have depended on food aid since 2000. Successive droughts have led to a drop in food production. But, aid agencies also blame President Robert Mugabe's sometimes violent land reform program, in which white commercial farmers' land was taken away and redistributed.

Critics of Mr. Mugabe say the land reform program did not benefit poor, landless blacks. Instead, they say, it gave special treatment to those aligned to the ruling ZANU-PF party. The president has acknowledged that the program was flawed and has said that those who have grabbed more than one farm will be forced to give up the extra ones.