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October 11, 2013

Zimbabwe Farm Workers Destitute After Eviction

by Sebastian Mhofu

In Zimbabwe, some farm workers and their families are living in the open after being evicted by a new black farm owner, raising questions about President Robert Mugabe's land reform policy, which he says is meant to correct the ills of white-minority rule and benefit all black Zimbabweans. 
 
For more than a week now, nine families have been living in a field by the side of the road near Westfield, the farm where they used to live and work for a white owner, after a black farmer evicted them. They have no running water, and no toilets. The nine families are made up of nearly 40 people.
 
“I am feeling pain because it is not easy to stay… [by] the tarred road.  My problem is that my kids are not going to school now… I feel pain because, me, I am a black man; I am not a white man.  But the black man harasses me.  I do not know what is happening.  I think I am not a Zimbabwean now, if I was Zimbabwean we sit and talk,” said Vurayayi Vurayayi, one of those living in the field.
 
Zimbabwe’s land reform program, which started in 2000, has driven most white commercial farmers off their land and replaced them with mainly black peasant farmers. 
 
President Robert Mugabe claims the program is meant to correct the injustices of white-minority rule and benefit black Zimbabweans, but it seems these new farmers are now hurting black workers by evicting them.
 
A 37-year-old pregnant woman who refused to give her name said the nine evicted families are living in desperate conditions.
 
It is painful because they are being treated like slaves, she said. The whole family is staying by the road, and is now impoverished.  They have no food and no blankets, yet have nowhere else to go.
 
On Tuesday, a court declared the evictions illegal, after Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights brought a case to court. Despite this, Peter Rupiya, the manager of Westfield farm, said he would not be abide by the court decision since the issue of land reform was sensitive in Zimbabwe.
 
"We take orders from those above us," he said. "They will call us on what direction to take.  This is a tricky issue; that is why I am trying to talk to you [lawyers].  I am not really willing to get involved in the matter.  There are very senior people involved in this matter.  I will not mention their names, they have been here.  That is why I do not want to have these people back,” said Rupiya.
 
Kennedy Masiye, from the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said he would go back to court in two weeks’ time to get a final order to ensure the farm workers can return to their homes.
 
“I did not expect to see what I saw.  They were children who were living in the open, women.  There was no water.  Clearly, what motivated me was the way they were apparently evicted which was arbitrary, barbaric.  There was no court order whatsoever,” explained Masiye. 
 
With the rainy season expected to start this month, these farm workers can only hope that they will have roofs over their heads again soon.