Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Stateless Former Farm Workers in Zimbabwe

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Stateless Former Farm Workers in Zimbabwe

Article excerpt

Several hundred thousand people of foreign ancestry who used to work on white-owned commercial farms in Zimbabwe are stateless, jobless and either displaced or at risk of displacement.

Xenophobic government policies designed to drive out farm owners and undermine the political opposition have left large numbers of farm workers with nowhere to go.

By 2000, Zimbabwe's President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party were facing, for the first time since independence in 1980, significant political opposition. With a crucial presidential election coming up in 2002, ZANU-PF responded by announcing a fast-track land reform programme, which provided for the forcible acquisition of (mostly white-owned) commercial farms.

The government also brought in the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2001. This Act introduced a prohibition on dual citizenship, so that people with dual nationality would automatically lose their Zimbabwean citizenship unless they renounced their foreign citizenship. The Act's main aim was to disenfranchise the estimated 30,000 white Zimbabweans, many of whom held British passports and who were accused by ZANU-PF of using their dual citizenship to discredit the ZANU-PF regime abroad and of bankrolling the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). People who opposed - or were thought to oppose - ZANUPF's rule were seen as enemies of the state who had no legitimate claim to Zimbabwean citizenship.

These measures affected not only white Zimbabweans but also hundreds of thousands of farm workers, including in particular the many farm workers who were of foreign descent. This was no accident; farm workers were perceived to be under the sway of their (white) employers, themselves seen as MDC supporters. As a result, farm workers were thought to be as much of a threat to ZANU-PF as the white farmers themselves.

In January 2000, prior to the start of the fast-track land reform programme, an estimated two million farm workers, seasonal workers and their families lived and worked on the commercial farms.1 Of these, an estimated one million people (200,000 farm workers and their families) are thought to have lost their homes and their jobs as a direct consequence of the land reform programme.

About 30% of the original two million farm workers and their families were of foreign descent. These were mostly second- or thirdgeneration immigrants whose parents or grandparents had moved to Zimbabwe (or the former Rhodesia prior to independence in 1980) as migrant labourers from Malawi, Zambia or Mozambique. …

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