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Plaxedes Chironda works at rose growers Green Valley Growers outside of Harare. The wage is one US dollar per day, but Plaxedes is glad to have a job in a Zimbabwe where more than 90 percent are unemployed.

Plaxedes Chironda works at rose growers Green Valley Growers outside of Harare. The wage is one US dollar per day, but Plaxedes is glad to have a job in a Zimbabwe where more than 90 percent are unemployed.
The wage is altogether too low and prices altogether too high.  A bottle of cooking oil costs three days wages. “But in any case there is food in the shops now, before the shelves were completely empty”, says Plaxedes, who began working at the plantation approximately at the same time as Zimbabwe gained a coalition government six months ago.
President Mugabe and opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara from MDC share the governmental power, while a new constitution is being drafted so that a democratic election can be held. New MDC ministers try to get the country on its feet. The country’s currency has been replaced by the US dollar; there is food and petrol – for those who have money. But they are few, there are no jobs, three million Zimbabweans have moved abroad, poverty runs deep and people would not survive without the humanitarian support given by different international organisations.  The cholera that took thousands of lives is, however, now under control. The international community, including Sweden, does not want to give the Zimbabwean government support as long as Mugabe is president because it is feared that it would strengthen his position and that the money would not end up where it should, that is to say, to healthcare, schools and infrastructure. Instead many give increased humanitarian support via different organisations.

The union is a support in work and in life

It is difficult to find any functioning workplace in Zimbabwe, but at Green Valley Growers approximately 100 people are employed and with families it is roughly 300 people that live on the plantation. The employees belong to the GAPWUZ (General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe) union, one of the Palme Center’s co-operative organisations. GAPWUZ’s work is broad-based and is directed both toward the farm workers and their families to strengthen their human rights, but GAPWUZ also contributes with food and other items for the vulnerable.
Godfrey Karuma is the union chairman in the committee at Green Valley Growers,
“Through GAPWUZ we have been made aware of our rights and we can always turn to them for help when we have problems. It is a great support for us and has really strengthened us employees.”
A much appreciated contribution is a sack of sanitary towels that GAPWUZ hands out when they come to visit.  A luxury for poor women in Zimbabwe.
At the beginning of the year, there was a strike at the plantation as the workers received no wages. Notan Rauch, who is the site manager, explains that the company did not have any money. The downturn in the global economy has hit rose exports hard. Prices have been pressed down by roughly half and the outlook for the employees receiving a higher salary is small. But the union tries to gain the best working conditions possible and when the Palme Center is visiting the local committee takes the opportunity to discuss with GAPWUZ how they can get the company to procure new working clothes.
“It is two years since we received working clothes and look at what we look like”, says Godfrey Karuma and points to his and others ripped trousers. “Management says that there aren’t any to get hold of, but they are just waiting for prices to go down.”
GAPWUZ states that with the current prices in the dollar economy, the minimum loan for farm workers should be 60 dollars plus food rations of oil, soap, corn meal, sugar and salt. Parts of the wages used to be paid out in foodstuffs, but because the prices are so high now the employer only pays out wages and the workers have to buy food themselves.
According to the central union organisation ZWTU, the subsistence level is 400 US dollars per month.

Victims of the land reform

Farm workers in Zimbabwe, who once constituted the backbone of the economy, are still unemployed, have no homes and are dependent upon humanitarian aid.  They are victims of the land reform which was said would strengthen farm workers in Zimbabwe, but instead it has involved misery and poverty and that agriculture has fallen into decay.
The land reform, which President Mugabe began carrying out in the beginning of the 2000’s, was an important contributor to Zimbabwe’s economic and political collapse. Farms and plantations were to be transferred from the white owners to “the people”. This was happen under orderly conditions and the owners would be compensated. Instead, Mugabe used the reform in order to strengthen his power by giving properties to senior party officials and war veterans “wovits” from the war of liberation that often drove away the plantation owners with violence. Many were killed, others were forced to flee.
But the new owners were not interested in carrying out farming, but for them the properties were primarily a capital. Farm workers were suddenly without work or houses.
The union organisation GAPWUZ estimates that between 80 and 90 percent of farm workers in Zimbabwe lost their jobs. GAPWUZ has 27,000 members, less than 10 years ago it was closer to 200,000.
“It is going to be difficult to build up the agricultural sector”, says Juliet Sithole from GAPWUZ. “The salary is so low (minimum salary is 32 dollars) that people can earn more selling on the street.”
Invasions of farms and plantations have continued since the coalition government took over. Workers on the plantations have often been chased away when a new owner has taken over. From one day to the next they have been forced to flee, often to Harare where they neither have work, nor a home.
“They end up on the outskirts of Harare in shanty towns where there is neither water, nor sanitation and cholera spreads freely. We try and see to it that they receive humanitarian aid through different organisations”, explains Juliet Sithole from GAPWUZ.
GAPWUZ thinks that the new government must look over the entire agricultural sector and that the owners who do not care for and operate their farms should leave them to owners who have knowledge and want to carry out commercial farming.
The Palme Center supports the work of GAPWUZ, both as a union and the efforts they make for the unemployed and their families, with humanitarian initiatives, counselling and HIV/AIDS information.
BIRGITTA SILÉN

Published: 2009-10-10

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