3 October 2012

Zimbabwe: Life Without a Destination

Goromonzi — For more than a decade, farm worker Maria Bhamu, 48, and her 10-year-old grandson have wandered across Zimbabwe's Mashonaland East Province, enduring a string of evictions in the aftermath of the country's fast-track land reform.

Their itinerant life began in 2001, a year after President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF government began implementing the land reform programme, which saw thousands of white farmers - who employed an estimated 320,000 to 350,000 farm workers - displaced to make way for landless black Zimbabweans.

Her husband was seriously injured when their employer's farm was taken over; he later died. Bhamu settled on a nearby farm where she was hired as a labourer, but several years later, that farm was also taken over.

She now lives in a plastic-and-cardboard shelter in rural Goromonzi, about 40km southeast of the capital Harare. Her grandson begs for food and money nearby. The police have warned her that they intend to destroy her makeshift shelter.

"Since 2001, when our employer was chased away by the war veterans, I have been moving from one place to another and, as you can see, this is where I have ended up. Who knows, you might find me gone if you return tomorrow, but then, I don't know my next destination," Bhamu told IRIN.

Her most recent eviction was in February 2012, when she and 15 other families were forced from a farm about 12km away after a high-ranking government official claimed ownership from another resettled farmer.

"Since the beginning of the land reform programme, things have not been stable. First, it was black people invading white farmers' land and now it is resettled farmers against their black comrades, but it is us [farm workers] who suffer the most," Bhamu said.

Unknown number of IDPs

Thabani Nyoni, spokesperson for Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition (CiZC) - an umbrella organization of more than 350 NGOs - told IRIN, "Even though we don't have specific figures of affected former farm workers, I can vouchsafe that the numbers are disturbingly high. The land reform programme created a number of problems for farm workers, problems that still persist."

Although the government has called for a more comprehensive nationwide survey of internally displaced persons (IDPs), one has yet to be conducted, contributing to "the lack of information on the scale of continuing internal displacement," said a December 2011 report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

"Whenever ownership disputes arise, the workers are disregarded," Nyoni said. "They lose employment and, as if that is not enough, they lose their right to shelter. What is saddening is that these victims are suffering in silence as they don't know who to talk to and hardly anything is being done by government to address their plight."

Nyoni said a tense political atmosphere is complicating humanitarian interventions, because the displacements mostly involve high-ranking officials. Aid agencies and members of civil society fear being labelled political enemies for helping out farm workers, he said.

A 2008 report by IDMC noted, "Indeed, so sensitive is the issue of displacement in Zimbabwe that IDPs... are not even called IDPs but instead have come to be referred to as 'mobile and vulnerable populations'".

Women and children

After her husband died, Bhamu tried to find shelter at her home town, Mutoko, but the community leadership turned her down. "The headman said he could not give me a place to build a home because I left the area a long time ago. He also said I did not have an identity card, which I lost when we moved from one place to another, but I think he gave me all those excuses just because I am a woman, and they think I sympathise with whites," she said.

Bhamu's grandson does not have a birth certificate; he has attended school only sporadically.

Women and children are worst affected by the displacements, Nyoni observed. "Women, who [are] about 50 percent of the victims, face the burden of adjusting to new situations through livelihood activities such as fetching firewood, looking for food and caring for the children, who suffer the shocks that come with violence-related movements," he said.

About 10 families that were ejected in April from a farm in Norton, about 50km west of Harare, have set up camp along a nearby river, joining about 100 other people living in an informal settlement there.

"The government should give us land to build our own houses," Ben Bhauleni, 30, one of the evictees, told IRIN. "We don't have money to join housing cooperatives, and we fail to understand why we should continue to be victims of other people's disputes over the farms."

This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations

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