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    Friday, 15 May 2020

    Human rights situation in farming communities during lockdown


                                             ZHRC chair, Dr Elasto Mugwadi.

    1. Mandate
    As part of its mandate to monitor the observance of human rights as provided at section
    243 (1) (c) of the Constitution and the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission Act
    [Chapter 10:30], on the 8th May 2020, the Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission
    embarked on monitoring of the human rights situation in farming communities in
    Chegutu District. The farms which were visited include Radion, KHB and Wicklow. The
    following human rights issues were observed:
    2. Access to information (Section 62 of the Constitution)
    · The communities highlighted that they had limited knowledge on the COVID-19
    pandemic since some of them do not have radios or mobile phones which are the main
    sources of information on the pandemic.
    · Their limited knowledge on COVID-19 was also attributed to the fact that no
    representatives of government or non-governmental organisations were conducting
    community awareness programmes on symptoms, prevention and treatment of the
    coronavirus, on the farms.
    3. Right to food and water (Section 77 of the Constitution)
    · Residents at all the three farms visited lamented the shortage of food. They said that
    the national lockdown was preventing them from working and fending for their families.
    Without any sources of income they cannot buy food for their families which are now
    having one meal per day. Due to failure to buy relish, they are now surviving on locusts
    referred to as “mahwiza” which they pick during the early morning hours at nearby
    forests.
    · They also highlighted that they were not benefiting from public assistance programmes
    initiated by both government and other organisations which are only benefiting older
    persons who receive either a bag of maize or millet each.
    · In terms of access to water, it was observed that at Radion and KHB Farms, there are
    no boreholes. Unprotected sources such as dams and wells are relied on for water
    supply. At Wicklow Farm, only one borehole is working and the others broke down.
    The single borehole also services a school which is at the farm, creating pressure on
    the borehole which is likely to break down soon as well due to over usage.
    · At the borehole there are no disinfectants to use for ensuring non-transmission of the
    virus through physical contact with the borehole when drawing water and there are
    also no hand sanitisers for users of the borehole to use before touching the borehole.
    2 | P a g e
    4. Right to healthcare (Section 76 of the Constitution)
    · Residents at all the three farms highlighted that their main health facility is Chegutu
    District Hospital. Due to lack of income they cannot afford bus fare to travel to the
    hospital when cases of illness arise. Some said that even if they found money for bus
    fare and medical consultation fees, they could not afford to pay for prescribed
    medication which was highly exorbitant and usually priced in foreign currency.
    5. Security of person (Section 52 of the Constitution)
    The farm residents indicated that they did not encounter any forms of violence from
    law enforcement agencies but cases of domestic violence were prevalent. They cited
    lack of income and shortage of food as the main reasons for domestic disputes which
    ended up in physical violence.
    6. General observations
    · The residents of the farms are farm workers and former farm workers of mostly foreign
    origin, who reside at the compound areas.
    · At Radion Farm, the Commission noted that the residents comprised of predominantly
    women and children. The men were said to be engaging in income generating activities
    such as brick moulding. It was also highlighted that some of the men were incarcerated
    after committing offences such as theft of maize at neighbouring farms, in an effort to
    provide food for their families.
    · At KHB Farm, most of the young men showed signs of intoxication and redundancy,
    without any meaningful economic and recreational activities to occupy their time.
    · At Wicklow Farm, there is a significant population of older persons who were said to
    be receiving public assistance in the form of maize or millet from the Department of
    Social Welfare. However, this assistance was not enough to sustain their big families
    which did not have other forms of livelihoods.
    · People at the farms live in farm compounds where the houses are closely built. Such
    living arrangements make confinement and social distancing a challenge due to the
    inevitable close interaction amongst the families. Life was therefore going on as usual
    without observation of preventive measures such as social distancing and wearing of
    face masks or other coverings for the nose and mouth.
    · The farm residents indicated that it was difficult to comply with the requirement of
    constantly washing hands with clean water and soap since water and soap is not
    readily available.
    7. Recommendations
    · The Department of Social Welfare and other organisations providing food relief should
    extend their vulnerability assessment criteria beyond older persons to include other
    people who are constrained from fending for themselves by the national lockdown.
    · The Ministry of Local Government and Public Works should also facilitate installation
    of boreholes at Radion, KHB and Wicklow Farms which have perennial water
    challenges.
    · Human rights organisations should extend their awareness programmes to farming
    communities such as Radion, KHB and Wicklow Farms where there is limited
    knowledge of human rights and remedies for human rights violations.
    · Legal Aid Service Providers should assist families with members who have been
    incarcerated so that they access justice through provision of free legal advice and
    representation.

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