Tag Archives: weaver press

From ‘ordered estates’ to ‘crooked times’: farmworker welfare in Zimbabwe

farm mvurwi

A new book is just out – Ordered Estates: Welfare, Power and Maternalism on Zimbabwe’s (Once White) Highveld – by Andrew Hartnack, and published by Weaver and UKZN Press. It addresses many of the themes highlighted in the blogs of the past two weeks, and is based on research carried out over the last decade on a number of Highveld farms, as well as with farm worker welfare NGOs. Once you peel away the layering of sometimes unnecessary theory (it was originally an anthropology PhD so that’s the excuse!), the empirical stories shared in the book’s pages have much to offer our emerging understandings of post-land reform Zimbabwe (see also earlier blogs on his work).

The book fills an important gap in the literature, as it offers a nuanced account of the history of farm workers’ rights, as well as a reflection on changing fortunes since 2000. The ‘ordered estates’ of the colonial era have been much described. Blair Rutherford’s classic work from Karoi/Hurungwe told this story well, describing the constrained ‘domestic government’ that disciplined and controlled in the narrow, paternalistic world of white farms. Post-independence this reformed somewhat, and the limited sovereignties of the farms were extended as the state insisted on labour laws and other regulations, and NGOs took up the plight of farmworkers, creating new, more technical-bureaucratic, ‘practices of rule’.

This book deepens this analysis, particularly with a focus on ‘farmers’ wives’ and their role in welfare organisations – hence the reference to ‘maternalism’ in the title. It also shows of course that there was not one single approach to labour in white farming areas; not surprisingly all farms were different, depending on characters and contexts. The post-independence developmental attempts to modernise, civilise and improve resulted in a range of initiatives on the farms from schooling programmes to orphanages, often with heavy involvement of ‘farmers’ wives’. But by ‘rendering technical’ the inequalities of land and labour regimes, such welfare efforts did not address the underlying challenges, and welfare was more sticking plaster rather than fundamental reform. Following land reform in 2000, such NGOs have not found a new role, focusing on displacement, but not on the new lives and livelihoods of their former ‘beneficiaries’.

However, it is in the examination of the post-land reform period that this book cuts new ground. Building on, but also critiquing (as with some other recent literature somewhat gratuitously and inaccurately in my view), the important work of Walter Chambati, Sam Moyo and others, the book paints a detailed ethnographic picture of how farm workers carve out new opportunities in an highly challenging economic, social and political environment. This is the period of ‘crooked times’, where a ‘zig-zag’ approach to the kukiya-kiya economy is vital to survive. This is the world where there are no standard jobs – in the form of regular wage work – and where entrepreneurial informality emerges, with new forms of distribution, dependence and personhood, as James Ferguson describes for South Africa.  Whether in the case of the Harare peri-urban settlement described in Chapter 5 (discussed previously in this blog) or the biographies of former farm workers profiled in Chapter 7, mixing new farm work with urban living, the new precarities of life in the post land reform age are well described. New ‘modes of belonging’ must be generated, very different to the ordered safety, if extreme exploitation, of what went before.

What was missing from the book I felt was more detailed information who moved to what new occupations and where they ended up to provide the bigger-picture context to make sense of the fascinating detail. The book acknowledges the problems with the existing statistics, quoting both the CFU and other sources, and (somewhat bizarrely) just takes an average number, as a ‘middle way’. Getting a national picture may be impossible, but it would have been good to know what happened on those on the farms studied, and get a sense of how outcomes for farm workers were differentiated and why, in order to locate the few, if fascinating, individual cases.

There are hints though at wider patterns. Those few white farms that have persisted have often maintained a network of loyal farm workers, some who provide protection and support through their links, and the book offered an interesting case of this dynamic in Chapter 7. At various points, the book suggests (I think very accurately) that turnover on A2 farms was particularly damaging to farmworkers, as production collapsed and some A2 farmers did not maintain their operations. But it also suggests that ‘successful’ A2 farms nearby took on workers, and so there is often a regional labour economy that is important to understand on the new farms. The book did not however get into any detail on what happened post land reform to groups of farmworkers in farm labour compounds, and especially on the A1 farms (after all the largest areas), as we have been trying to do in Mvurwi. It therefore missed out on the dynamic described in the blogs over the last two weeks, of farmworkers becoming farmers – along with much else – in the new ‘crooked times’ of the last 16 years.

Despite shortcomings (this was after all a single researcher doing a research degree, so no blame there), this is a most valuable contribution, and coming from a white Zimbabwean (as he admits not from a farming background) perhaps especially powerful. When you next hear misinformed statements about Zimbabwe’s former farmworkers, please turn to this book for an informed, nuanced account that sets an important agenda for future research and policy debate.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

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Guest Blog – The Zambezi Valley Refrain: A Story of Empowerment

This week I want to share a blog written by Diana Conyers, a former colleague at IDS at Sussex, and someone who worked for many years in Zimbabwe. Her discussion of a new book – The Zambezi Valley Refrain: The Story of Basilwizi – by Mary Ndlovu and now published by Weaver Press in Harare (2016) identifies some key ingredients for successful local development. Here’s Diana’s blog:

On 12 May 2016 I was invited to be the guest speaker at the launch of a remarkable book. The Zambezi Refrain tells the story of 27 years of struggle by the people of the Zambezi Valley to improve their livelihoods and right the wrongs caused by the construction of the Kariba Dam. It is the story of Basilwizi, a community-based organisation established in 2002, and its predecessors, the Binga Development Association (1989-99) and the Binga Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace (1999-2002).

Having lived in the Zambezi Valley for nine years (1993-2002) and worked with the Binga Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, I was delighted to be invited to the launch of this important book. Here is an abridged version of my speech:  

Why is this book so important?

This book is important because, in my view, Basilwizi and its predecessors provide a model of how local development should take place.

Many years ago, as part of some work with the Commonwealth Secretariat, we looked at the experiences of about 30 successful local development initiatives in different parts of the world in order identify those factors that had contributed to their success.  Basilwizi and its predecessors have followed these highly effectively.

1. Locally driven

Firstly, we found that successful development initiatives are locally driven. This creates a sense of ownership that is essential for sustainability.

This has certainly been the case with Basilwizi and its predecessors. Zambezi Valley residents have always taken the lead. External agencies have played an important role, but only in support of local initiatives.

2. Clear objectives

Secondly, successful initiatives have clear objectives. Without a clear objective, organisations can lose their sense of direction.

In Basilwizi and its predecessors, the objective has always been clear: to empower the people of the Zambezi Valley to improve their livelihoods. There have been changes in the means used to achieve this objective, but not in the objective itself.

3. Participatory approach

Thirdly, successful organisations involve the beneficiaries in all aspects and stages of their work. Genuine participation requires time and effort, but the results are always worthwhile.

This is one of the most obvious strengths of Basilwizi and its predecessors. There are many examples of such participation, but there are two in which I was personally involved.

One was the training of local community representatives to undertake simple forms of project appraisal, so that they could apply for money for development projects. The other was the involvement of local people in a mid-term evaluation of part of the project.

Project appraisal and project evaluation are usually regarded as sophisticated technical processes. In fact, overseas consultants are often hired to undertake them. But the community representatives had no problem in learning and applying the basic principles.

4. Learning by doing

Fourthly, successful organisations adopt a ‘learning process’ approach. This is a flexible approach, in which an organisation learns by doing and adapts in response to lessons of experience and changes in the external situation.

The story of Basilwizi and its predecessors is undoubtedly one of learning by doing. Two examples of this are in my view particularly significant.

One is the response to local community needs. For example, the Binga Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace began as a human rights programme. Its aim was to empower people and help them to exercise their rights. But it soon became apparent that communities had many pressing practical needs, so a development component was added to address these needs.

The other is the way in which the organisations have learned to adapt to and manage the local and national political environment. This is never easy and, given the problems that Zimbabwe has faced in recent years, it is no mean achievement.

5. Leadership and human resource development

Lastly, successful organisations have good leadership and develop their human resources. These two are interrelated. An organisation needs strong, committed leadership, particularly in the early days, but it is equally important to develop the capacity and commitment of all those involved, otherwise they become over-dependent on one or two key people.

Two characteristics of Basilwizi and its predecessors show that they have done this. One is the continuity of staff. There are many people involved today whom I knew when I was there and some have been there from the start.

The second is the way in which the original leaders have gradually handed over day-to-day responsibility to others, but continued to provide overall support and guidance. There are not many leaders in the world who have done this.

Implications for donors

The ‘Basilwizi approach’ presents major challenges for donors. For understandable reasons, donor agencies prefer to support projects in which they are in control, rather than those where they merely respond to local communities. They also prefer projects where the activities are clearly defined and follow a pre-arranged schedule, rather than those that adopt a more flexible, learning-by-doing approach.

This has caused problems for Basilwizi and its predecessors. There have been times when they have struggled to get donor support. However, there have always been some donors prepared to take a risk and do things the Basilwizi way. If more overseas aid was provided this way, the development world would be a much better place.

This post was written by Diana Conyers, and first posted on Zimbabweland

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The Unbearable Whiteness of Being. Reflections on white farming in Zimbabwe

This is the main title of a new book by Rory Pilossof from the University of Pretoria and published by Weaver Press in Zimbabwe. The book documents the voices of white farmers in Zimbabwe through an analysis of the contributions to the CFU’s magazine, The Farmer, especially in the period after the land invasions, a reading of the now burgeoning post 2000 literature by white Zimbabweans, and through interviews with members of the breakaway Justice for Agriculture (JAG) group.

In addition to the brilliant title (although not the only use it seems), it is a fascinating read giving a much needed account of this period from the perspective of those who lost land. The events that unfolded from 2000 with the mass invasion of farms, including outbreaks of sometimes extreme violence in places, are certainly very real. The tales told are harrowing and convincing: somehow more so than the journalistic accounts of Peter Godwin and co. They mix the mundane with the dramatic, and are set in life stories that are very peculiarly Zimbabwean. The appendix of profiles of those interviewed (mostly from Mashonaland) is particularly enlightening. Yet the unreal and strange is also there. These testimonies are from the twenty-first century, but with many views and perspectives belonging to the nineteenth.

As Pilossof recounts, farmers who were willing to speak (obviously a selective sample) were so caught up in the traumatic events that their prejudices were plain to see, and not hidden from an interviewer who, as someone with white skin, was assumed to be sympathetic and of similar views. Strange is perhaps too calm an epithet: to many outside the narrow, isolated social circles of white rural Zimbabwe, such views are shocking; what Pilossof calls ‘condescending paternalism’ and ‘racist ramblings’ in one book he reviews. Together these insights expose of course the extraordinary social and political separation that many in the white farming community got caught in, even 20 years after Independence.

The cultural mores and political biases, and the racial tinge to everything are well documented in David Hughes’ book, with its analysis of landscape, conservation and farming. But somehow this book is more direct. Pilosoff tries to be balanced, and clearly he is affected by many of the stories told, but he also is forced to comment on what he hears.

The pervasive ‘white myopia’, as Pilossof terms it, was upheld by a series of myths. These “served the important function of allowing white farmers to live at ease with the scale of their land holdings, and to believe that they had done no wrong by buying into a system that so obviously segregated black from white”. This was bolstered by the view that farmers were apolitical, and that all they did was farm, despite for many representing the unfinished business of the liberation war. The book identifies a number of ‘myths’ of white farming: how farmers tirelessly struggled to tame an empty and unforgiving bush, how they had equally to control and discipline their workers who were lazy and deceitful, and how the productivity of white farming was the result of such disciplined hard work and investment. As he notes, no mention is made in the accounts of course of the massive government subsidies that kept most white farming afloat, nor the terrible conditions most farm labour suffered.

The accounts offer glimpses into a worldview overshadowed by patronising superiority. People emphasised how they loved and cared for their special servants and farm managers, yet despised and feared their land hungry neighbours, deemed to be ‘gooks’ and ‘terrs’. There is no narrative of belonging or of equality, just one struck through with racial superiority. It is no wonder that most found the land reform utterly surprising and wholly reprehensible. It ran against all things they upheld. Despite being hard working and sometimes quite successful farmers, many simply did not realise that things had to change, and this stubborn resistance to the ‘wind of change’ (40 years after MacMillan gave the famous speech in the South African parliament) is witness to the extraordinarily narrow outlook that many held.

Pilossof concludes:

“While many claimed to have changed their identity, to be Zimbabwean rather than Rhodesian, and to be ‘white Africans’, this is tempered by their use of the word ‘African’ to always and only to refer to blacks. As such, white farmers in Zimbabwe are ‘orphans of empire’, unable to progress past this state of being thus ‘become’ Zimbabwean”.

In some ways the book could be critiqued as unbalanced. Pilossof found it difficult to gain access to information, and many people would not speak, so charged was the atmosphere in the mid 2000s. His interviews are with an extreme group – JAG – which many would say was not part of the mainstream, although it was plentifully supported by foreign donors. He also interviewed people in the heart of Mashonaland where the land invasions were most contested, and where violence was most prominent. Also, after 2000 The Farmer was in its dying days, when it was most shrill in its criticisms of the land reform, rejecting the more conciliatory stances of some within the CFU. He also uses the sometimes bizarre white memoirs and biographies as sources, which many would argue offer particularly odd interpretations of white Zimbabwe. He therefore did not speak to those realists and pragmatists who perhaps saw the land reform as the ‘writing on the wall’, something that was inevitable and that had to be accommodated. He did not discuss with those who did not have an escape route to town, with alternative non-farm businesses, and so did not speak to those who sought compromises and accommodations on their farms. And he did not speak to those few who actually supported land reform, even if not the form it took. This is another dimension of white farmers’ voices that needs to be told, and awaits another book.

But such gaps do not undermine the value of the book, as the array of perspectives garnered while showing variation and lack of clear consensus, definitely shows a particular and well recognised discourse. As a documentation of the perhaps inevitable end of an era spawned by a brutal form of settler colonialism it provides a rather sad and telling doorstop to a troubled period.

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

updated, June 2013, thanks to David Moore for spotting an earlier mistake!

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