Tag Archives: mazowe

Farm workers: reconstructing lives and livelihoods

There is little doubt that farm workers lost out with the land reform, but what has happened to them since, particularly those who remained on the farms?

Too often commentary on farm workers has portrayed them as passive victims. But new work demonstrates their agency in a variety of ways. They were of course active agents, both before and after the land reform. Based on in-depth ethnographic exploration, this work tries to explore how different farm workers (not after all a uniform category) have reconfigured their lives in response to the new agrarian structure. There is, as ever, a complexity to the story not offered in standard accounts. In particular I can recommend an often overlooked 2009 paper by Andrew Hartnack that offers a particularly nuanced account. He shows how “through local responses to displacement, displaced workers are able to counter the discourses of the powerful by subverting global, national and local representations, using local agency to create their own practical discourse of displacement”.

Farm workers have always been represented in particular ways by public, media and political commentary. In the past, as Blair Rutherford has described, white farmers often related to labour in hierarchical and paternalistic ways, constructing citizenship and identify outside the influence of the state within the confines of the farm. Hartnack argues that the limited earlier research on farm workers often projected a simplistic image of workers as victims of racial discrimination and capitalist agriculture or, in direct contrast, they were characterised by commentators such as R.W. Johnson as having lived under a ‘cosy arrangement’ or ‘protective umbrella’, now disrupted by land reform. In the 2009 paper Hartnack comments: “While undoubtedly well meaning, much of it [the literature] essentially denied farm workers agency or cultural competence, portraying them largely as poverty stricken, illiterate and powerless, giving the impression that they were passive victims of their circumstances”. In the post 2000 discourse, farm workers are again seen as victims, this time of ZANU-PF expulsions, while the nationalistic discourse presents farm workers as ‘foreign’ and stooges of white farmers and the opposition.

Yet in all of these discourses, agency, capacity, innovation and practice is denied. This is why a deeper, ethnographic understanding of farm worker lives and livelihoods is required. Hartnack’s emerging studies offer one among a number of important contributions to this. He highlights for example how:

“…workers used their ingenuity, skills and resourcefulness to manipulate the farm system to their own advantage. Farm workers may have been subordinated within capitalist relations of power, dependent on paternalism for survival, marginalized and stigmatized within society in general and made to feel insecure, but this did not stop them from learning how to benefit from and adapt to their situation”.

And this experience helped farm workers and their families to cope with and respond to displacement when farm invasions took place. The experience of displacement is of course not uniform. Workers living on a farm came from diverse locations, often from outside Zimbabwe, they had formed communities on farms, but with linkages between and outside that differed between families, men and women. In a number of papers Hartnack describes the process of displacement and the living conditions of former farm workers living in a ‘holding camp’ on the outskirts of Harare. The insecurities, the poor health conditions, the oppressive patronage relations and political impositions, not least Operation Murambatsvina, are documented.

Yet the situation was not hopeless. It could not be: people had to survive. And the new farmers needed labour, and particularly skilled labour. Indeed some former farm workers then quite quickly (indeed within the same season) acquired jobs, but again this was not uniform. It was differentiated by levels of skills/education, gender and age. Hartnack explains that the first jobs available were:

“….piecework jobs that required either some measure of skill or experience, such as spraying for the flower-growing companies, or the capacity for heavy manual labour. Some men with experience in the Brylee flower nursery thus got jobs with the three different flower companies in the area. Others became builder’s assistants at the local housing cooperative and on private building sites. Some loaded bricks at the nearby brickfields, while other young men sought jobs as security guards. However, even those who found alternative employment soon after displacement found their wages inadequate to meet their increased need for cash, while their job security was poor in comparison to what they had enjoyed at the farm. Many of the available jobs were not easily accessible to women, being in the traditional realm of men. This meant that women, along with the elderly, struggled to maintain access to an income after displacement. Casual workers (traditionally women) had not had much work in 2002, as the disruption of the farm’s operations in the first three months of the year had reduced the need for their labour. Having had no wages, many casual labourers found themselves with very little cash at the time of displacement, as did retired workers. Female-headed households, which had relied on casual labour for an income, thus suffered badly as they did not have savings, and their members were often not able to find alternative jobs easily”.

Four years later follow up research found a small number of senior, skilled workers had gained employment on their former farm, while others had used skills and connections to get jobs or land elsewhere, and had moved on. Others remained vulnerable, and were reliant on piecework, small-scale gardening, trading and other activities. In the context of new settlements new forms of patronage emerged, with displaced farm workers finding protection by church leaders, war veterans and others. Responses included a range of strategies of the ‘weapons of the weak’ – trickery, foot-dragging, feigning ignorance and more – and farm workers developed representations of themselves as compliant, pious, weak or ignorant in order to get by. All this allowed some room for manoeuvre in nevertheless highly constrained circumstances, allowing them to ‘blend in’ yet ‘remain apart’. Conflicts and jealousies existed between the new arrivals and those residents of the informal settlement to where the farm workers were displaced. This involved a tricky negotiation, especially at the beginning, although as time progressed greater integration took place.

As readers of this blog will know, I have mostly worked in Masvingo province where large numbers of farm workers were not displaced, and there were few compounds of the sort found on the large-scale tobacco or horticulture farms in the Highveld. So it was fascinating for me to learn what had happened on such farms as part of an ongoing study in Mvurwi, Mazowe district. Here large compounds still exist, often housing hundreds of families; these are the ‘in situ’ displaced described by Godfrey Magaramombe, contrasting with those who were forced to move.

But unlike in the early 2000s, a decade on these former workers are carving out new relationships with the farms that surround them, as Walter Chambati and others have shown. This has not been straightforward, and stories of conflict abound, but these farm workers are now finding work in a more flexible way than before. Today they move around between farms looking for work, often able to strike deals to their advantage. Given the skills many possess, they have become valuable resources in the new farm economy, providing useful agronomic and marketing skills. Women and men engage in this new labour economy in different ways. Employment is usually poorly paid and insecure, and the lack of an organised voice is a constraint. Most households based at the compounds also farm. Negotiating small plots of land from the neighbouring farm owners has been a key part of their strategy, and many will survive off such gardens, even marketing surpluses to supplement wages. Some have been lucky to get larger areas, as part of official allocations within the resettlements. We met several former farm workers who were now farming tobacco with great success.

For new farmers with compounds within their farm boundaries, there are challenges too. With residents now incorporated into schools in surrounding areas, there is less of an obligation to provide services, but there are issues of welfare and security. A new farmer must deal with his neighbours well to avoid an escalation of theft or trespass. Thus many have started up relationships with committees within the compounds to negotiate access to land, water, electricity and to discuss issues such as the upkeep of farm buildings. These compounds are of course anomalous inheritances from an earlier agrarian structure, but have to be accommodated, as people, often second or third generation migrants, have nowhere to go.

While not denying hardship and vulnerability, the experience of former farm workers was not simple victimhood, characterised by passivity and lack of agency, but a much more active struggle. However despite this variety of strategies, access to new livelihood opportunities was again highly differentiated. Just as there is no single or simple story for land reform and the successes or otherwise of the ‘new farmers’, there is no standard story for farm workers, as is sometimes suggested. Detailed study of particular places and people, always contextualised, is essential for revealing the highly variegated experiences and outcomes.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

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The new land frontier in Zimbabwe: urban land for housing

In recent years urban, and perhaps especially peri-urban, land has become the centre of major political struggles for control in Zimbabwe. There is huge demand for housing in urban and peri-urban areas, very often from people with a foot in the rural areas but a need for an urban base. The costs of plots has sky-rocketed, and there are many, including those with resettlement farms making profits from farming, investing. As with any valuable resource, this attracts those who want to control it.

The control of urban land has become intensely political. Notionally controlled by municipal councils, urban land use and house building is supposed to be highly regulated. Indeed the building regulations in Zimbabwe are some of the strictest in the world. However in areas of the urban periphery there is more ambiguity. Former farm land that is being bought and sold illegally for new housing developments, creating often massive new settlements around Harare in particular. These areas are becoming a site of major conflict as chiefs or other local officials sell of land parcels to developers disenfranchising local people. This land market boomed particularly during Zimbabwe’s economic crisis, when land was privatised, and deregulation occurred. Those able to exploit the ambiguities of the system, and make gains on currency deals profited massively. The result has been significant accumulation by certain elites, along with invasions of land for new quasi-urban settlements.  Mandi Rukuni has called for new regulations to manage such land, and for a more effective land use planning and zoning system.

However a technocratic land use planning system may not be enough, as such areas are also sites of political contest and patronage.  Electoral politics have had a big influence.  ZANU-PF’s electoral strategy in 2013 was focused on such areas, with enticements being offered to people joining ‘housing cooperatives’ that were controlled by individuals with close ties to the party. These new urban voters, often poor and in need of housing, duly repaid their debt, and voted in ZANU-PF in areas previously controlled by the opposition. Some housing coops turned out to be bogus and people were enticed there without legal rights often to stands with multiple claimants. Some were later evicted to make way for big-time developers with political connections, while others remained living in appalling conditions in unserviced shacks with limited facilities.  After the election, ZANU-PF again announced its intentions to consolidate its gains by ‘regularising’ illegal settlements, including proposed demolition of informal settlements. With land consolidated in the hands of well-connected developers, their aim is to again hand out plots and assure electoral support in 2018.

Focusing on Ruwa and Norton near Harare, as well as Harare’s central markets, Jo McGregor shows in a recent paper how MDC councillors and municipal officials were intimidated, often violently, and were unable to fulfil their duties, and an alternative system of authority was established through party officials, youth militia and housing cooperative functionaries, supported by surveillance and control by the Central Intelligence Organisation. This was all allegedly coordinated from the highest levels, with key individuals, most notably the Minister of Local Government, Ignatius Chombo, being implicated. Some party-connected elites reputedly made huge amounts of money.

Rudo Gaidzanwa in a recent presentation retold the same story, but also asked who these new urban residents were, and what their aspirations and motivations were. While the political machinations around land and votes in urban areas drove a lot of the process, there were people who benefited from this. Gaidzanwa identified women as prime beneficiaries. She argued that due to lack of rural land rights due to ‘customary’ law, and lack of inheritance rights in practice, many wanted urban land and housing for alternative livelihoods. These included widows, divorcees, single women with families as well as entrepreneurial women with a rural base but in need of a stable urban home to raise their families, and gain access to schooling and health care absent in the rural areas, particularly the new resettlements. A diversity of such people were happy to join the coops and play along with the political game in order to gain much needed security of housing and land, unavailable to them elsewhere. Others were looking for sources of investment from the profits of farming. In our work in Mvurwi in Mazowe district, the high profits from tobacco are fuelling investment in land and housing in towns and cities, including in the politically-run housing coops, but also in other less controversial private schemes. An agricultural boom presents some new challenges, including the question of where the surplus money goes.

Jo McGregor’s paper was based on discussions with MDC councillors and activists, and clearly reflects that standpoint. She concludes that the ZANU-PF driven land acquisition, replanning and housing investments are a clear example of state-directed party-based patronage, geared to electoral gain and personal financial benefit of an party-connected elite, including ministers, senior military officers, and others of high status. In this, she is clearly correct, and the scandals that surround urban land and housing are regularly in the newspapers, particularly in the peri-urban settlements on the edges of the main conurbations, are witness to how this is an important and widespread phenomenon. Deep forms of corruption have become, in Sarah Bracking’s terms, a ‘technology of governance’.

However such accounts do not offer the perspectives of those who benefited. They may well have voted for ZANU-PF, but they are not the elite who are extracting the massive rents from dodgy deals, illegal sales and housing scams. Instead they are a significant group of often younger people, very often female, who have not got land in the rural areas. Some are displaced farmworkers or those whose housing was destroyed by Operation Murambatsvina; neither likely ZANU-PF supporters. Also, the land reform is now 14 years ago, and there are plenty who did not get anything. Equally, many do not wish to make a living solely on the land, regarding it as too much hard work, and would prefer to use their education to get a chance in town. Still others want to maintain a bridge between town and countryside, investing the agricultural profits in housing and urban land, guaranteeing a good return. Those now living in these new (peri)urban settlements are a diverse group, with different interests, affiliations and needs. They are embroiled in a political contest over land, resources and political control, but should be part of the story.

Expanding opportunities for low-cost urban housing in the end must be a good thing. And if this is part of an electoral strategy, then ZANU-PF seem to have followed rather successfully in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher in the UK in the 1980s. Stories of ruthless property developers linked to local political elites making huge profits from the poor in the context of a land and housing bubble is of course not exclusive to Zimbabwe either. Although it is no excuse, the urban politics of the US and Europe can be read in a similar way. However, for Zimbabwe, removing corruption and patronage, and excessive rent-seeking, from such land and housing deals must be a priority, as this offsets the potential redistributive gains to be made. As urban land is transformed from the exclusive preserve of the propertied elite to open up opportunities for land and housing for others, the new peri(urban) land users urgently need a voice.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and originally appeared on Zimbabweland

 

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Creating communities

I recently examined the Mabel Hungwe’s PhD thesis “In search of community in Zimbabwe’s fast-track resettlement area of Mazowe district” at Lund University in Sweden. A huge amount of fascinating empirical material is encapsulated in a series of case studies collected during 2006-07. This was of course at the peak of the collapse of the economy and in the run-up to the highly contested elections of 2008. It was not an easy time to do fieldwork – especially in Mazowe.

The stories however are incredibly revealing, both about how people coped during this tough period, but also the alliances made as different groups came to form ‘communities’. Of course the term ‘community’ itself is highly contested, and Mabel examines different definitions and interpretations very well. But what comes over very clearly is that in the ‘melting pot’ that is Mazowe district many of the same processes and outcomes we observed in Masvingo were occurring. Some people were doing well, others were dropping out. Some farms were being captured by elites, but others were being well used by new farmers. Former white farmers and farm workers were still present, often seeking new arrangements. It is a complex story, but again not all doom and gloom.

Mazowe is of course different to Masvingo. It is close to Harare, and has high agroecological and market potential. There were fewer small-scale A1 farms overall, with a greater proportion of A2 farms. The contrast between farms which were invaded by people from nearby communal areas, and those which were allocated by administrative and political processes was very apparent. And with such high value farms, often with significant infrastructure, this attracted the attentions of the political-military elite – some of whom did not invest, but some, perhaps surprisingly, did, often with the (hidden) support of former white farmers.

In a such a volatile and contested setting, forming ‘communities’ is of course challenging. Those that succeeded were those who had former ties. Being part of the invasions certainly helped. Those who arrived to new A2 farms with resident farm workers who had not been paid for months had real difficulty. Especially in the A1 sites, the Apostolic church was seen to be really significant, binding people through religion, land access strategies, commerce and marketing.

Of course the thesis covered only a narrow time period, and it will be really interesting to see who has succeeded and who has dropped out 5 or more years on. Contrary to the standard narrative that the land lies abandoned in the Highveld, there is clearly much going on. Fortunately Mabel has returned to Zimbabwe and has taken up a post at the Centre for Applied Social Sciences at UZ. Let’s hope there will be a flurry of new empirical research on these issues as a result.

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