FORMER and current workers at President Robert Mugabe’s Gushungo Dairies have alleged abuse of staff by the farm’s managers and poor working conditions.
“Workers are sometimes raided at night in their homes and subjected to body searches without any warrant,” said one of the employees. “At one time we were raided after a fire broke out and engulfed the maize field. We were beaten by the black-boots (riot police) yet we did not know who had started the fire.”
Employees also complained of salary disparities as some get as low as US$80 per month while others earn as high as US$380.
In an interview, Gushungo Holdings farm manager Stanley Nhari said the allegations were just a case of sour grapes by former employees.
“First ask them why they were chased out of employment before they report those lies,” Nhari said. “Is it a raid when a supervisor comes at night to check progress at the plant?” asked Nhari, adding: “No one is being harassed at Gushungo Holdings. It is common knowledge when an employee is fired or is unhappy he or she will always come up with stories.”
Another senior employee at the company who requested anonymity said workers are paid according to grades and hard workers are awarded regardless of the period they served.
“We pay our employees based on grading and promotions are done based on performance. This whole area is a security area and we are always on alert concerning who is within our premises including residential areas,” the employee said, refuting allegations of abuse of workers at Gushungo.
Sources at the farm also said the employees were convinced Mugabe is unaware of their working conditions because they rarely see him at the plant.
“The president usually only comes when there are visitors such as heads of state from other countries,” the source said.
The Mugabes acquired the farm, formerly known as Foyle Farm, in 2003 and built the dairy which now produces over 375 000 litres of milk per month and boasts of 1 300 dairy cows, 500 of them currently being milked.
The equipment for the dairy was imported from South Africa at a reported cost of about US$15 million.
Gushungo Dairies consists of a milk factory complex comprising a milking parlour with computerised state of the art equipment and produces yoghurts, ice cream, sour and fresh milk as well as flavoured milk and other products.
The previous owner Foyle was reportedly subjected to violence for several months before bowing to pressure and sold his property to the Agricultural Rural Development Authority before the Mugabes moved in.
The Mugabes have been linked to a series of land grabs in Mazowe with Grace claiming she needed more land to expand her orphanage, build a secondary school,a university and hospital.
Last year, Grace took over part of former Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed agro producer Interfresh’s Mazoe Citrus Estate.
Earlier this year sources said the Mugabes were allocated an additional 800 hectares of Mazoe Citrus estate after she got over 1 600 hectares last year.
Her occupation of part of Mazoe Citrus was the second time the First Lady displaced resettled farmers in Mazowe after she left hundreds of families homeless by occupying Manzou Game Reserve.