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workers are ill-treated and abandoned" - Spotlight interview
with Gertrude Hambira
Grumiau, International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC)
July 02, 2010
is the general secretary of the General
Agricultural Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (GAPWUZ) (1).
She has been forced to leave her country after criticising the land
reform that has triggered countless barbaric acts and left hundreds
of thousands of workers jobless. Amid continued human rights violations
and the persecution of trade unionists, she is calling for a genuine
land reform programme that will bring greater social justice without
violating human rights.
does the land reform implemented in Zimbabwe since the year 2000
It could be seen as a
racial issue, as white farmers are evicted from their farms to be
given to blacks... but the fact is that they are given to the blacks
that are part of the political elite: ministers, war veterans, ZANU-PF
(2) supporters, judges, etc. The ministers have received around
five to ten farms per person. In the process, the new owners have
evicted the farm workers who were supposed to work this land. They
only keep five to ten workers, for example, on a farm that used
to employ 200 people. Production is falling as a result, and this
affects the production of the entire country.
The potentially active
agricultural labour force prior to the reform was around 500,000
during high season (including seasonal workers), but it has now
fallen to almost 120,000. Most workers are abandoned on the farms
and become internally displaced, living on the side of the road;
others hang around in the villages and try to survive on piece work.
Some take up illegal activities, such as gold or diamond panning,
or join the informal economy, etc.
it is not in the new owners' interest to evict the farm workers.
Why do they do this?
Everyone wants land,
but not everyone wants to be a farmer. Farming is a business, not
a hobby; every effort has to be put into it. To produce, you have
to be on the farm. Yet these new owners spend most of their time
in offices from which they give orders, and there is no one on the
ground to supervise the work that is supposed to be done. If you
take on a farm and part with the labour force and start to underpay
the workers, you are heading for failure. When this happens, you
place the blame elsewhere (on the opposition, the workers, the banks
that won't give you a loan), but it is you yourself who put
yourself in this situation.
Has the entrance of opposition
leader Morgan Tsvangirai into the government not helped the situation?
Things may have improved for the rich, but when there is a change
in the structure of a system, people expect to see bread and butter
on the table. This is what the ordinary person in the street would
like to see the government focusing on, but within a week of the
national unity government being formed, farms were being seized
again, workers were being evicted and others continue to be underpaid.
The human rights violations have continued and trade unionists are
still being persecuted and arrested. It was under the rule of the
unity government that I had to go into exile. Yet an ordinary woman
like me has no intention of overthrowing the government, or reversing
the land reform. All I am doing is telling the truth.
led you to go into exile?
I was summoned to the
JOC (Joint Operation Command), a high-level structure of the army,
police, prison system and intelligence services. On 19 February,
they summoned me to the police headquarters and asked me why I had
produced a documentary on the human rights violations linked to
the land reform (3). They questioned me for about two hours. Three
days later, they sent seven men to "kidnap" me, which
implies being arrested and held in secret for an indefinite period.
Fortunately, I wasn't at the office, and I fled the country.
After my departure, my colleagues were arrested. They were not beaten
but they were heavily intimidated. They were told that they would
die in jail if they didn't tell them where I was.
form did your interrogation take?
They kept asking me where
the images of the documentary were filmed and what our intentions
were. They told me I should be imprisoned and die because I am a
dangerous person. I answered that I was only telling the truth,
that I would expect them, rather, to ask me how to stop all these
terrible acts of violence. Instead of that, I was confronted with
an aggressive interrogation.
you been arrested in the past?
Yes, and I have
also been beaten by the police on a number of occasions. My latest
arrest was in December 2008, when we took part in a ZCTU
(4) demonstration about the lack of money in circulation. I was
severely beaten by the police in the street and was then held in
detention for about two hours before being released.
GAPWUZ documentary denounced the torture inflicted on black workers
and white farmers. It shows, for example, the case of a worker thrown
into a crowd of drunken people that treat him with appalling cruelty.
Are these people paramilitaries, gangsters?
They are the
"Youth Militia". The government has set up a youth militia
made up of young unemployed people from rural areas. They receive
training and are then sent to invade farms. They start to harass
the workers, forcing them to attend their meetings. If the workers
refuse to obey them, they accuse them of being members of the opposition
and threaten to "discipline" them. Then they harass them,
beat them up, tie them to trees to beat them, force their children
to watch the torture they inflict on them.
are like paramilitaries employed to do the dirty work?
Yes, and if we call the
police for help, they simply look on without doing anything.
same violence against white farmers and their black workers described
in your documentary still taking place now?
At present, they are
evicting them but not assaulting them. The Youth Militia sometimes
comes to drive away the workers living on the roadside, but there
are organisations that come to provide them with humanitarian assistance.
happens to the white farmers who are evicted?
Some have gone to Australia,
England, New Zealand or neighbouring countries. All they can take
with them is their family. Our documentary shows the case of an
evicted white farmer worrying about his daughter's schooling,
but who is going to take care of the schooling of the 200 workers
he used to employ? There is nothing wrong with correcting the inequalities
that existed, because the good land was owned exclusively by the
white minority, but why kill a worker, a farmer, in the process,
why do children have to be thrown out of school? We need a genuine
land reform programme that does not lead to human rights violations.
the union remain active in such a context?
Prior to the land reform,
we had 150,000 members. This number has now fallen to around 25,000.
Most of our members have been thrown off the land where they used
to work. Our union is doing everything it can to remain strong;
we have done nothing but rebuild it over recent years. When the
farms were seized as of the year 2000, all the trade union structures
were destroyed. We started to build them up again. Then, in 2005,
human rights violations were rife and trade union structures were
hit once again. We had to start rebuilding them after the elections.
The farm evictions that have been pursued over all these years have
meant that we have constantly had to rebuild our structures. In
2008, during the most violent elections ever seen in Zimbabwe, all
the union structures were affected once again. Other trade unions
were hit, but the agricultural union was the worst affected.
We have always, in fact,
been in the process of building up the trade union within rural
communities. We have been recruiting members since 1985 through
education programmes, meetings, explaining the benefits of becoming
a member. It took nearly 20 years to develop this union, but what
we had built was demolished virtually overnight. One day we are
building, they next day it is destroyed... that is the context we
have had to overcome, surviving thanks to the support of foreign
unions and other partners around the world.
services are you able to offer your 25,000 members?
A trade union's
work is not limited to negotiating wages. When farm workers are
thrown off the land, we represent them in the courts; we establish
links with organisations that can provide them with humanitarian
assistance. We also organise civic education programmes, education
on HIV, etc.
provide legal assistance, but it is a well known fact that the judicial
system in Zimbabwe is far from independent...
Of course, but we have
to do it, because one day normality will be restored and we will
be able to reopen the cases and demand justice.
documentary reports on the cases taken to the SADC (5) Tribunal.
What rulings did it deliver?
The SADC Tribunal affirmed
that the government should not seize the farms, but the latter refuses
to implement these rulings and there is no one there to force it
to do so. Some of the cases taken before this tribunal even involved
farms that came under the SADC bilateral partnership agreement,
which were not supposed to be affected by the land reform. According
to this partnership, everything produced on these farms is for export
to SADC countries.
can international labour solidarity help you?
The ITUC and its members
should write to the government of Zimbabwe, support the ZCTU, and
join with the IUF (6) in highlighting the plight of farm workers.
And whenever possible, financial resources should be offered through
the ZCTU, to help our members affected by the reform. All the workers
interviewed in the documentary, whose faces were concealed, are
still in hiding in Zimbabwe, they are in an extremely difficult
the problems you would face as a trade union leader, what motivated
you to take on this role?
I am passionate
about my country and the people I represent. They were voiceless
for so many years. I cannot simply sit back and watch what we have
built over the years being destroyed. Someone has to speak out,
and I was given the mandate to speak on behalf of Zimbabwe's
workers when I was elected at a congress.
represents 168 million workers in 155 countries and territories
and has 311 national affiliates.
information, please contact the ITUC Press Department on: +32 2
224 0204 or +32 476 621 018.
Agriculture & Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe, affiliate
to the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU).
African National Union - Patriotic Front, headed by President Mugabe
of Justice", http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wl97
Also consult "If
something is wrong...", the report accompanying the documentary
Congress of Trade Unions, affiliated to the ITUC
African Development Community
Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco
and Allied Workers' Associations
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