LITTLE is being done to provide treatment and care for Zimbabwean farm workers living with HIV and Aids since the government launched its controversial fast-track land redistribution programme in 2000.Historically neglected, the chaotic reform programme and a
series of bad droughts have deepened the vulnerability of the remaining farm labourers working the land.
On Bryne Farm, about 55km west of the capital, Harare, Lloyd Munapo (39) was diagnosed as HIV positive in 2001. He can no longer work and relies on his wife, Anna, to get by. She is also HIV-positive, but can still join other labourers every morning in the fields.
“If she stays behind taking care of me here, we will both die of hunger. The doctor told me to eat healthy foods, so we have to work for it at all costs,” said Munapo.
Due to the high death rates on farms, owners now give workers as little time as possible to bury loved ones or tend to the sick, claimed acting president of the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union (ZFU), Jabulani Gwaringa.
“It’s now very common on most farms. If you give them (farmworkers) the whole day, production will suffer. It’s now only a handful of workers who attend funerals these days, the rest will be working,” said Gwaringa, who owns a farm in Mashonaland East Province.
The 1 200-hectare Bryne Farm, which produces maize, tobacco and cattle, was invaded by former Masvingo provincial governor Josaya Hungwe in 2001, who dislodged the previous owner, David Dobson. About 100 workers still live on the farm.
Anna’s monthly earnings cannot cover Lloyd’s life-prolonging antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, costing between $20 000 (US$80) and $25 000 (US$100) a month. The gazetted salary for farm labourers is $4 160 (US$16,6), which cannot even buy five litres of cooking oil in a country with an annual inflation rate of 1 200%.
Munapo has been on the government waiting list for ARVs since 2001, but has grown frustrated and no longer visits the nearest ARV distribution site in Norton town, about 20km away. “They kept telling me to come the following month and check, until I lost hope,” he said.
He is not alone: many farmworkers cannot access treatment or even basic healthcare services, say rights groups. HIV and Aids prevention campaigns seldom target or reach poorly-educated farm labourers, allowing myths about the disease to go unchallenged.
Gift Muti, deputy secretary-general of the General Agriculture and Plantations Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe (Gapwz), which represents the interests of about 400 000 farmworkers, said the living conditions of labourers often made them even more vulnerable to the pandemic.
Although Bryne farm has some workers’ housing with cement floors and corrugated iron roofing, most live in overcrowded, badly ventilated huts with poor sanitation. The subsidised food rations they used to receive from Dobson were cut soon after Hungwe took over, leaving some workers without enough food.
“The problem is that those who know that they are HIV-positive cannot afford ARVs or the recommended nutritious foods. Some HIV-positive farmworkers only have one meal a day,” said Muti.
Gapwuz distributes condoms in farming communities and regularly holds workshops for farmworkers, encouraging them to be tested for HIV. Despite these initiatives the odds were still heavily stacked against farmworkers, as risky sexual behaviour has persisted.
“There are a lot of unwanted pregnancies and high numbers of cases of sexually transmitted infections, clearly showing that they are not using the condoms. A lot of them abuse drugs and alcohol,” said Muti.
The Zimbabwe Business Council on Aids, a coalition of private companies, is undertaking a survey in cooperation with Gapwuz to establish the extent of HIV and Aids on commercial and communal farms.
Muti said the general welfare of farmworkers deteriorated after the land invasions in 2001, which displaced white commercial farmers and their workers. The new owners, mostly black Zimbabweans, lack the financial muscle to take care of their workers.
Wilson Nyabonda, president of the Zimbabwe Commercial Farmers’ Union, warned that the high prevalence of HIV and Aids on farms could no longer be ignored, and called for the development of a national programme to address the crisis. “If we fold our arms, the gains of the land revolution will not be noticed,” he said. — Irin.