Wretched of the earth.

Position::Zimbabwe's landless farm workers

Panos London, in cooperation with Dateline Southern Africa, have just completed the most comprehensive report on the plight of Zimbabwe's 1m landless farm workers ever. The following article is the first in a series of extracts from that report, In Search of Hope for Zimbabwe's Farm Workers.

Lacking political representation and striped of the right to organise themselves as an interest group, Zimbabwe's farm workers have historically had no voice. Today, they remain a forgotten people, marginalised in the development goals of the country. This marginalisation has increased since the Government embarked on its economic structural adjustment programme (ESAP) in 1991.

A 1995 study by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trades Unions points out that deregulation of security of employment regulations under the World Bank/IMF sponsored economic reforms has indeed promoted exports, but has done little to attract job creating investment. It argues for a strategy beyond ESAP.

Until the 1990s, Zimbabwe's economy was centrally controlled and both pre- and post-colonial Governments intervened in the agricultural markets. The colonial Government provided land, credit, infrastructure, markets and a pool of guaranteed cheap labour to help cushion white farmers from the effects of world recessions, and to enable them to compete on international markets. After independence the new Government continued to intervene, in agricultural markets, this time mainly to strengthen the position of black communal farmers.

However, no matter how many loans and subsidies were given, Zimbabwe's terms of trade declined heavily. The fall in the value of primary agricultural commodities led to a shift in the pattern of production. Farmers shifted to crops with better international market prices, and as the number of commercial farms fell, those remaining mechanised.

But the Zimbabwean dollar continued to weaken, and farmers responded by shoring up their profits through paring down on permanent employment and employing more female piece workers. Between 1974 and 1984, 100,000 jobs were lost in agriculture. While 73% of the workforce in large scale farms were permanently employed in 1985, by 1994 only half were. Increased mechanisation may have improved labour productivity, but it also increased labour poverty.

Yet the weak Zimbabwe dollar has not been the only cause of low wages and unemployment. The liberalisation of markets under ESAP has meant a hike in the price of fertilizers and...

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