Farm Labor Struggles in Zimbabwe: The Ground of Politics

Farm Labor Struggles in Zimbabwe: The Ground of Politics

Farm Labor Struggles in Zimbabwe: The Ground of Politics

Farm Labor Struggles in Zimbabwe: The Ground of Politics

Synopsis

In the early twentieth-first century, white-owned farms in Zimbabwe were subject to large-scale occupations by black urban dwellers in an increasingly violent struggle between national electoral politics, land reform, and contestations over democracy. Were the black occupiers being freed from racist bondage as cheap laborers by the state-supported massive land redistribution, or were they victims of state violence who had been denied access to their homes, social services, and jobs? Blair Rutherford examines the unequal social and power relations shaping the lives, livelihoods, and struggles of some of the farm workers during this momentous period in Zimbabwean history. His analysis is anchored in the time he spent on a horticultural farm just east of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, that was embroiled in the tumult of political violence associated with jambanja, the democratization movement. Rutherford complicates this analysis by showing that there was far more in play than political oppression by a corrupt and authoritarian regime and a movement to rectify racial and colonial land imbalances, as dominant narratives would have it. Instead, he reveals, farm worker livelihoods, access to land, gendered violence, and conflicting promises of rights and sovereignty played a more important role in the political economy of citizenship and labor than had been imagined.

Excerpt

A former professor of mine, Jim Faris, used to say that if you are ever completely satisfied with anything that you have written, then something is wrong, for it shows that you are no longer learning, no longer re-examining your conceptual tools and forms of analyses. This lesson, as it were, has made writing and finishing this book particularly difficult. As I was carrying out the research in Zimbabwe in the late 1990s and early 2000s that generated the material for this book, my own understandings and analysis were still developing. This was due in large part to the monumental changes occurring in Zimbabwe after February 2000, transforming the lives and livelihoods for the particular farm workers and former farm workers at the center of my analysis as well as elevating farm workers as a discursive category in Zimbabwe to the forefront of national and international debates and studies. Combined with engaging with the changing scholarly analyses of Zimbabwe and elsewhere, I struggled with my own analytical framing, finally focusing on what seemed to be a ubiquitous but relatively under-theorized topic: politics. By examining how the practices and power relations of electoral politics became entangled in the configuration of livelihoods and social projects of an extraordinary farm labor struggle, I hope that this ethnography contributes to wider understandings of farm workers, Zimbabwe, agrarian struggles and the importance of critically examining the ground of politics when advocating for social change.

For my learning for this book, I am heavily indebted to many. Foremost, I need to thank the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of . . .

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