A decade-old program of land sales and seizures in Zimbabwe has left many immigrant farm workers destitute after supporters of President Mugabe took over the land they worked. Now they are calling for the right to stay.
The Zimbabwean government has ordered 84 farm workers to leave the Mgutu farm, which is about 50 kilometers (31 miles) north of the country's capital, Harare. The workers have lived and farmed the land for decades, leaving their own troubled countries and coming to what is now Zimbabwe to work for white landowners until a civil war ended white minority rule in the country in the last 1970s.
Workers, like Angela, who was washing laundry in a stream, have said conditions at the farm have deteriorated since a government plan to buy or seize farmland was instituted.
"We used to have communal faucets at this farm where we could get clean water," she said, adding that veterans who supported Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe during the civil war removed them. "So many children have had problems with waterborne diseases because we now drink untreated water from the stream."
Nowhere to go
Kids bathe in the river while a few meters further downstream other workers fill containers with water to use in their homes.
Before the government kicked out the white owner, the farm workers would drink safe water from the communal faucets, Angela said, adding that electricity has also been cut.
Binias Yolamu, who came to Zimbabwe in 1964 from Mozambique when he was 24 years old, said he and many of the others living at the farm would defy the government order to leave, risking up to two years in prison for their actions. Even if he wanted to leave, he said there's nowhere to go.
"I worked here for 48 years. I will die here. I grew up here," Yolamu said. "All my relatives in Mozambique died during the civil war of the 1970s and 1980s. I have forgotten everything about Mozambique.
"These plot holders have made use of our services on various occasions and have failed to remunerate us," he added.
Kingstone Dutiro is the new farmer at Mgutu farm and is leading efforts to evict the families. According to a government order, the workers should have left by February 2007.
"They are making allegations that they do not have anywhere to go, but that is not true. They are refusing for other reasons," he said. "They are engaged in sabotage and stealing produce."
Mugabe's government argued that the seizures of land owned by white farmers would empower blacks, but Tarisayi Papaya, a 42-year-old widow with five children, said she thinks the land reform program is now hurting the very people it intended to benefit.
"When the land reform started, we were all excited. We were told that all black people would live together peacefully," Papaya said. "Now the government has turned against us. We hope there will be divine intervention to keep us from being evicted."
Divine intervention is yet to come, but lawyers like Lewis Uriri are assisting the farm workers and appealed the eviction notices. He said a law being used to kick the farm workers off the land should be declared unconstitutional because it leaves the people who legally lived on and worked the land with nothing.
"These were farm employees whose contract was not terminated," Uriri said. "They are lawfully in occupation and it is unlawful to eject them."
Uriri said he wants the case referred to Zimbabwe's Supreme Court for a definitive judgment. The high court has not yet announced whether it will hear the case.
Author: Columbus Mavhunga, Harare / sms
Editor: Holly Fox