Workers fight destitution

Farm workers, most of them migrant labourers, left destitute by the chaotic land reform programme are having their “inhumane and degrading treatment” under the spotlight again.

Mozambican descendent Binias Yolamu came to Zimbabwe as a 24-year-old in 1964 and has been a farm labourer since. Three decades after the end of colonialism, he is battling to keep head above water and has had to approach the courts to intervene after being chased off the place he had called home for ages. With nowhere else to go, having established his roots in Zimbabwe, a now elderly Yolamu is pinning hopes on the Supreme Court to end his misery. Yolamu has made an application for referral of his matter together 84 other families to the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of some parts of the Gazetted Land (Consequential Provisions) Act, which he says has reduced him and other farm workers in his situation to “inhuman and degrading treatment.”

“The land reform process is a form of affirmative action meant to advance black economic empowerment,” his lawyers argue in court papers. “It was not envisaged to be a chief driver of leading poor farm workers into destitution by driving them off the farms from where they are employed without any form of recognition or terminal benefits to enable them to start a new life after investing their whole lives to working on a land that was subsequently gazetted.

This follows a complaint by a new farmer Kingstone Dutiro, who wants the employees of former farm owner Archie Black to leave Mgutu farm. The State, led by Edmore Makoto, is now prosecuting the 85 workers.

The workers say since the departure of Black they “have lived in extreme and abject poverty that has been forced on us.” The 72-year-old said: “These plot holders have made use of our services on various occasions and have failed to remunerate us for these services. This in our view could be the reason why they are now orchestrating for our prosecution in this matter.”

We submit that this is an abuse of court process for an employer to seek the prosecution of its employees simply because it is failing to pay such employees for services rendered.”

Harare Magistrate Lazarus Murendo is expected to hear the State’s opposition to the application for referral filed by the former farm workers. Prosecutor Makoto told the court that he would be opposing the application when the case resumes on Friday.

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