Zimbabwe: Evictions traumatize farm workers (AllAfrica)

| January 4, 2016

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The only home Ruth Charedzera has ever known is the 450-hectare Robbstale Farm in Mhangura, in Zimbabwe’s Mashonaland West province.

Mrs. Charedzera was born there in 1957, went to school on the farm, worked on the farm, and even met her husband there. She raised her five children on the farm, and is currently caring for 11 grandchildren. Understandably, Mrs. Charedzera is deeply attached to the farm; for her, it is home.

But Mrs. Charedzera and her fellow farm labourers are at risk of becoming homeless. They may join thousands of others who have lost their jobs and homes as part of Zimbabwe’s land reform program.

In 2012, officials from the Ministry of Lands subdivided Robbstale Farm into four plots. One plot remained with the original white owners, and the other three were allocated to indigenous families. The compound where Mrs. Charedzera was born and raised was allocated to a retired military officer, Leonard Matizanadzo.

Mr. Matizanadzo went to court to have the labourers evicted from his new property, and was granted an eviction order in March, 2015.

On November 18, 2015, the local deputy sheriff went to the farm with 14 police officers in full riot gear to evict 200 people—including 75 children—living at the compound.

Mrs. Charedzera remembers: “They came to the farm on a Wednesday at around 10 a.m. They were … very intimidating. Most of the men and some women were in the fields, but I was at home with the children. The [police] … forcibly opened [doors] before haphazardly loading our belongings into a truck.”

Mrs. Charedzera struggles to control her emotions as she continues: “They barred us from getting near the houses. Attempts by people to grab their property resulted in tear gas canisters being thrown at them. The police officers were so menacing that most women fled with their children to the farmhouse which is across the road.”

She adds: “We watched hopelessly from across the main road as they ransacked our houses and loaded the modest property we have worked for so many years. Then, as if to add insult to injury, they dumped our property at the main road.”

Farm workers say the police burnt 49 houses, destroying property which had not been loaded onto the police truck. The property included beds, wardrobes, solar panels, clothes, and national identification documents.

Eighteen houses still stand, but are uninhabitable—doors, windows, and walls were broken or pulled down by the police. The smell of burnt wood is strong, and the atmosphere sombre, as the farm labourers ponder their future.

Mrs. Charedzera and some of the other farm workers took refuge in tobacco barns on land owned by the original white owners. The owners want to use the barns for the tobacco harvest, and have offered the labourers a piece of land to build temporary accommodation.

Zimbabwe’s government claims that it has empowered close to 300,000 families through the land reform program. But a government report says that very few farm workers have benefitted from the program, which the government admits has reduced productivity.

To Mrs. Charedzera and the thousands of farm workers who have been evicted from farms alongside their former employers, the land reform program has been traumatic.

According to the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe, 200,000 people were employed in farming before the land reforms started. Now, fewer than 50,000 people are employed.

People like Mrs. Charedzera view themselves as victims of land reform; they believe they have been robbed of their livelihoods and accommodation.

Mrs. Charedzera says: “The way our houses and property were destroyed shows that the government does not care about us. To them, we do not exist. They have completely forgotten about us, and our interests don’t matter.”

To read the full article on which this story is based, Evictions Leave Farm Workers Traumatised, go to: http://allafrica.com/stories/201512140580.html