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Stranded ex-farm workers suffer three-year ordeal

Two-year-old Michelle Phiri shields her plate of sadza from two other toddlers trying to help themselves to her food.

By Jairos Saunyama

Isabel Mkwananzi (left) waits upon her daughter Michelle (in red jersey) to eat her meal. Their poverty does not allow them to share.

Isabel Mkwananzi (left) waits upon her daughter Michelle (in red jersey) to eat her meal. Their poverty does not allow them to share.

With her hawk-like eyes watching the “usual intruders”, Michelle made sure that morsels went down her throat in quick succession as the food would double as both breakfast and lunch.

Sitting next to Michelle was her 21-year-old mother Isabel Mkwananzi who was in excruciating pain.

Mkwananzi said she was bleeding and local health officials suspected she had suffered a miscarriage, but she needed to go to Marondera Provincial Hospital for an authentic diagnosis.

She had no money to seek medical attention and her condition was deteriorating fast.

Her husband Shaibhu Phiri (24) watched from a distance as he pondered on the next move to save his wife’s life.

This is the sad tale of the Phiri family, one of the eight families (about 40 people) that have been living by the roadside between Mutangadura and Dunstain for more than two years after being chucked out of a farm in Goromonzi south constituency.

Life hasn’t been easy for all the ex-farm workers who became homeless after the farm — popularly known as KwaPhillip — was allocated to a black farmer who then ejected the labourers, resulting in some like Phiri putting up by the roadside outside the farm.

“This is my new home, I have nowhere to go,” Phiri said.

“The authorities know about our fate, how we are suffering and no one is moved to assist us.

“I cannot believe that I have been living by the roadside for close to three years.

“My daughter Michelle was born here and she is now walking. She knows no other home besides this roadside.”

When The Standard visited the place recently, the remaining families had erected grass-thatched shacks along the road.

To show that they had nowhere to go, tiny solar panels had been installed on the roofs of the shacks.

Close to the yard were two makeshift bathrooms and there were no toilets.

“We are used to open defecation. We cannot erect a Blair toilet because this is not our land,” Phiri added.

“The reason why we erected our structures close to the road is that the land behind us belongs to another farmer.

“The farmer is kind and allowed us to farm on a small portion of land.”

On July 19 2014, more than 60 families at Banana Groove Farm in Goromonzi were left living in the open after the farm owner and former Dynamos chairman Simon Makaza evicted them.

The farm workers were left by a white farmer only identified as Williamson who paved way for Makaza in 2005 during the land reform programme.

In 2010, Makaza evicted the farm workers before the latter approached the courts where they lost the case.

Eve Paul (40) said she knows no other home except the farm.

“My parents worked at Banana Groove and I was born there. They are now late and their graves are within the farm,” she said.

“I grew up on the farm and I know no other home. When we were ejected, about 60 families were left stranded.

“However, some went to their relatives in other areas while others are now lodging at Mandalay Plots.

“The families left here have nowhere to go and if we do not get land, it means we are going to be by this roadside forever.”

Paul said the new farm owner accused them of refusing to work for him, hence the eviction.

“We were living in the compound and we were accused of refusing to work for the new farm owner,” she added.

“The problem is that because we were living in the compounds, he thought we would work for free. He did not want to pay.”

Survival for the ex-farm workers has been hell as they have no project for income generation.

They are all surviving through doing menial jobs in the nearby farms.

This paper observed that some of the children were not going to school as their guardians had no income to pay fees.

The families were also getting water from an unprotected well dug in a wetland nearby.

The children doing secondary education travel long distances to either Melfort or Bromley while the nearest clinic is in Ruwa.

Goodson Fidesi (52), one of the elders at the shacks, said the families had been denied food aid despite being in dire need of it.

“We haven’t received any food aid. We are aware that government is giving food but none of the families here has benefitted. The councillor and the legislator pass through, but they do not care,” he said.

“We pray that one day we will be allocated small pieces of land so that we can have a place to call ours.

“We are living in unfavourable conditions here, there is a lot of mosquitoes because of our closeness to the valley and the river.

“Our councillor was given mosquito nets to donate to people but we did not get even a single net.”

According to the victims, they received assistance once in 2014 after a non-governmental organisation donated cooking utensils and some groceries.

The victims also said they knew of state land in the area where they can stay.

Efforts to get a comment from Goromonzi South legislator Petronella Kagonye were fruitless as she was unreachable on her mobile phone.

However, award-winning human rights defender Armstrong Nyandoro who is based in the area, said the former farm labourers were suffering and responsible authorities had neglected them.

“These people have a right to live and I urge the responsible authorities to assist them.

“Their lives are at risk of health-related problems,” he said.

Before the farm invasions and controversial fast-track land reform programme, commercial farms used to employ over 350 000 workers and offered shelter to over 1,5 million, including workers’ relatives and children.

The farming community constituted 15% of the Zimbabwean population.

However, the government failed to allocate ex-farm workers land for farming, leaving many of them destitute and without shelter.

According to Mashonaland East Farm Community Trust, the government had in 2004 only allocated a mere 2% of the 11 million hectares acquired under the land reform programme in four years to former commercial farm workers, leaving the rest in abject poverty.

Official statistics as of the end of March 2002 indicated that only 1 183 former farm workers had been resettled.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) secretary general Japhet Moyo said the government did not consult widely but concentrated on allocating land to cronies, forgetting the farm workers who had farming experience, having spent their entire lives on farms.

“It is a problematic issue. as labour, when the land reform process started, we indicated that in terms of beneficiaries, we didn’t see how the government wanted to allocate land to farm workers,” he said.

“I think the government concentrated on cronies, relatives and friends, in their programming. they left out completely the issue of the farm workers.

“Our view was that the farm workers were the best people who could utilise the land.

“But the cronies, relatives and friends are not doing much; the land is idle in provinces but there are people who have the experience, who worked their whole life in the farms.

“It’s a pity that some are now destitute, roaming the streets of Harare, some displaced to the remote arid lands.”

As it stands, Phiri and other victims live in abject poverty and hope that one day normalcy will return into their lives.

With the winter season fast approaching, the victims are bracing for intense coldness as they are settled within a valley.

Phiri’s daughter Michelle will soon turn three having never known what a proper home is.

Her mother, Isabel just hopes that her husband will raise the needed $40 to travel to Marondera so that she can undergo a scan.

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