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Farm Workers Lose Livelihoods in Zimbabwe's Land Reform

President Robert Mugabe's "resettlement" policy in which property was snatched from white farmers, has created a new problem. Workers left after the farms had been seized are suffering from loss of jobs, income, homes, and a place to produce food for their families.

Before the farm takeovers were launched in 2000, agriculture used to be Zimbabwe's biggest employer. But the numbers of those employed in the sector have plummeted along with production.

Gertrude Hambira of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe told VOA the new owners fire some workers once production falls. But others are forced to leave the farms with their employers.

"I think it is also because of their alignment to their employers. When you are at a farm and that is your only home and an employer has provided home for you for a number of years or maybe for the rest of your life, when he is kicked out you are accused of sidelining with him or her so you also face the brutality your employer is facing," she said.

One such worker is Crispen who was a foreman on his employer's farm earlier this year just after the forced eviction of his boss. He spoke to VOA in Shona. "They were busy looting equipment on the farm. As the supervisor they accused me of reporting what was going on," he said.

Crispen said he was beaten before he and the driver were run off the farm which had seven permanent employees. His wife and more than fifty others worked seasonally. He had been on the farm for 10 years and looked after his five children. Two who were in school have now dropped out.

Crispen now shares a single room with his wife and six others behind a house in Harare where his boss now lives. His former employer who asked not to be identified, said he cannot afford to pay him, but he provides him with food.

"I see that he does not go hungry and I'd see him right so much as if I could. If I got another business going I'd definitely accommodate him together with my driver who is the other top guy," he said.

Though not all workers are forced off the farms or fired GAPWUZ's Hambira notes that very few of those who remain are being paid enough or on time.

"The current statutory wage stands at $10 a month plus a food hamper for general agriculture and we also have for horticulture timber and tea plantations it goes up to $35. But we've had employers who haven't paid that $10 for the past three months they are saying it's too high," she said.

Hambira said that the government is not doing anything to help displaced farm workers and her union is working with humanitarian organizations trying to help where they can. Some workers, Hambira said, end up as illegal gold or diamond panners while their children, who should be in school, are forced to look for work. Some single women choose to become commercial workers to escape their destitution.