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Govt must compensate ex-farm workers as well

Opinion & Analysis
guest column:Francis Mukora ON September 28 as I read the Telegraph, a Chinhoyi-based newspaper, I came across a story about Sekuru Dovaan Kaimah, who turned 100 years in June and lives in Makonde district since arriving from Mozambique in 1948.

guest column:Francis Mukora

ON September 28 as I read the Telegraph, a Chinhoyi-based newspaper, I came across a story about Sekuru Dovaan Kaimah, who turned 100 years in June and lives in Makonde district since arriving from Mozambique in 1948.

Despite having worked at more than five farms for more than 50 years, Sekuru Kaimah said he did not get any terminal benefits except for the National Social Security Authority pension, which he received for only two months after retirement. He is also unhappy that he did not benefit from the land redistribution programme.

Sekuru Kaimah’s story, which personifies hundreds other former farm workers countrywide, was published exactly two months after the Zimbabwean government and white former commercial farm owners signed the Global Compensation Agreement which will see about 4 000 former farm owners receiving US$3,5 billion compensation “for improvements made on the land compulsorily acquired” during the land reform programme.

In his speech at the agreement’s signing ceremony on July 29, 2020, President Emmerson Mnangagwa said “the assumption and expectation is that this agreement will bring closure and finality to the land question”.

On August 4, Finance minister Mthuli Ncube, who chairs the committee responsible for mobilising the US$3,5 billion, described the agreement as “a reflection of the second republic’s political commitment to the successful conclusion of the land redistribution process in a manner that restores the integrity and dignity of all the people of Zimbabwe who were affected by the land reform.”

Suffice to note that Ncube’s assertion leaves a lot to be desired as one critical constituency, the former farm workers, are not catered for by the agreement. At the beginning of the land reform in 2000, at least 322 000 full-time workers were employed at commercial farms countrywide.

The United Nations estimated that the land reform programme had displaced at least one million farm workers and their dependants by 2008. They lost jobs, livelihoods and properties.

Others were injured and some even died in the violence that characterised the exercise.

Despite the promulgation in 2002 of Statutory Instrument 6 of 2002, compelling farm owners to pay severance packages to their employees who lost jobs consequent to compulsory farm takeovers, the majority did not receive anything as surveys, including by the Ministry of Labour, showed that a meagre 23% had received any form of compensation by 2003.

The main explanation and expectation was that farmers would pay them after receiving their own compensation. Surprisingly, the recently signed agreement is silent on the issue.

On August 14, Zimpapers Television Network hosted a discussion to unpack the agreement, with Ncube, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) representative Georges Van Montfort and former farmers’ representative Harry Orphanides as panelists. During the discussion, I sent a question about compensation of former farm workers for their losses. Another listener also asked whether government and the UNDP as a development partner were doing anything to alleviate the socio-economic plight of ex-farm workers.

Ncube answered that former farm workers “are not part of this agreement”. Orphanides claimed that 99% of the former farm workers had received compensation in the form of gratuities. And Montfort said that the UNDP did not have programming that specifically targets former farm workers per se, but that they benefit from interventions meant for every other vulnerable persons.

These responses show that ex-farm workers are nowhere in the compensation matrix as their concerns were sidelined. Like Sekuru Kaimah, they will continue to live in disgruntlement, not knowing if or when they will receive their dues for a lifetime of farm labour.

Against this background, the big question now is: Can anything be done to address the plight of ex-farm workers? The answer is yes, if government and former farm owners are interested in seeing the compensation agreement produce genuine “closure to Zimbabwe’s land question, in a manner that restores the integrity and dignity of all Zimbabweans affected”.

Here are four steps that would help.

First, ex-farm workers should also get compensation. This view is premised on the moral pedestal that if the 4 000 former farmers are being compensated in terms of the Zimbabwean Constitution adopted in 2013, it is only fair that their 322 000 former workers also receive compensation. The least complicated way is for payment of severance packages stipulated in SI 6 of 2002.

SI 6 of 2002 created the Agricultural Employees’ Compensation Committee consisting of representatives from the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture, agriculture workers representative body, called General Agriculture Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe, the Agriculture Employers’ Council and chaired by the Labour ministry. Its mandate was to ensure that terminated farm workers receive their full severance packages.

It placed the responsibility of paying these terminal benefits on farmers. Now that the farmers will be receiving their compensation, it is just that they also pay their former employees their dues.

Government should revive the committee forthwith so that it finishes its unfulfilled mandate.

Second, there is a need to prioritise ex-farm workers with interventions that provide social safety nets and boost their recovery and resilience.

Up to this day, most of them continue to live in abject poverty, without livelihoods and with limited access to basic services such as water, sanitation or education facilities for their children.

Most do not have security of tenure on the now dilapidated farm compound houses they occupy. Instead of bundling them together with other vulnerable populations as was suggested by Montfort during the ZTN discussion, government and development partners should specifically target them with recovery and resilience-building interventions.

Four years ago, I was briefly involved in a UN-supported project that sought to and would have greatly improved access to socio-economic rights among ex-farm workers. Such targeted interventions can go a long way to facilitating ex-farm workers’ recovery and resilience.

Third, going forward, authorities have to ensure grassroots citizens’ participation, especially of those directly affected, in issues as important as the compensation agreement.

From the look of things, ex-farm workers, despite suffering irreparable losses from the land reform programme, were not involved in the compensation engagements, either directly or through their elected representatives in Parliament.

Consequently, the agreement appears to be an elite pact negotiated and agreed upon by elites from government, former farm owners and international institutions such as the World Bank without the approval and legitimation that stems from grassroots citizens’ participation.

That explains why the likes of outspoken Norton parliamentarian Temba Mliswa described it as “a treacherous” agreement which will cause “those who fought and died for this country to turn in their graves”.

Lastly, for all the above to happen, ex-farm workers should have the unity, agency and a voice demanding for their compensation.

Social movements have a responsibility to organise and capacitate ex-farm workers and to facilitate their engagement with both government and their former employers.

Politicians and political parties also have a role to play and dividends to harvest from this matrix. Whoever stands with ex-farm workers in their claim for compensation is guaranteed of their votes in the next election.