Farm worker communities comprise some of the most isolated groups of people in Zimbabwe, marginalised from the development goals of the country as a whole. The communities are very different in nature to traditional rural communities, and in many respects have more in common with urban groups.
The main attributes of farm worker communities that influence the impact of HIV/AIDS are:
- Lack of "community": The term "community" rarely applies to farm workers. "Communities" are cohesive groups, which have a common history and social background, a sense of belonging and commitment to each other, and systems for decision-making, planning and initiating projects. These characteristics are largely absent within the groups that live and work on commercial farms and estates.
- Isolation: Farm worker communities are often cut off from other communities by the large distances involved and by their lack of access to information.
- High mobility: Farm worker communities are characterised by very high levels of mobility. There is seldom a sense of permanency or belonging.
- Because of their high mobility, extended family structures have broken down. The work force of farms comprises people from many different ethic backgrounds, originating from Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi, as well as from various parts of Zimbabwe. One estimate suggested that 30% of farm workers in Zimbabwe have family roots in neighbouring countries. Many farm workers are the second, third or even fourth generation immigrants and links with their families and places of origin are very tenuous or non-existent.
- Although most farm workers and their families should qualify for Zimbabwean citizenship by virtue of their birth and/or long residence in the country, most still do not possess birth certificates and personal identification documents because the regulations are so stringent and their application so strict. Data collected by FOST shows that 74% of all orphans on farms and estates do not possess a birth certificate. A child that does not possess a birth certificate will find it difficult to progress with their education beyond primary level, will not be able to obtain assistance from Social Welfare or claim the benefits they are entitled to from NSSA. In addition, they have no chance of obtaining personal identification papers as adults, perpetuating this vicious circle.
- Instability of family groups is greatly exacerbated by the extent of seasonal and casual labour on farms. Increasing numbers of single women with children are being employed in this way and their lack of work security and inferior status in the community frequently leads them into casual relationships with a permanent worker in the hope of marriage. They, hence, become vulnerable to STI/HIV infection.
- Early marriages are a common feature of farm life leading to "child mothers". Girls often express the feeling that marriage at an early age is the only way to escape the neglect and drudgery of family life but would prefer to continue with their education given a chance.
- The level of social organisation, motivation and involvement of farm workers in issues related to their own social development is low. Although many farms recognise the need to provide basic housing, sanitation and social welfare for their employees and their families, most developments have tended to be farmer led with little overall involvement of farm workers in the development process and little encouragement for farm workers to respond to their own development agendas.
- Poor recreation facilities often means that the beer hall is the hub of social activities in the farm village and during their non-working hours many parents can be found there with their children who are, consequently, subjected to all of the negative influences which prevail in that environment.
- Commercial farm worker communities are often completely disenfranchised from the mainstream political processes. The land redistribution process has generally failed to consider the needs of communities which may be displaced and, to date, only a token effort has been made to include farm workers in the resettlement process.
- Access to health care in commercial farming areas is, on the whole, very poor. Although some Rural District Councils (RDCs) do provide a mobile clinic service, in general antenatal and postnatal care is poor and there is a lack of adequate family planning services. In the current environment these inadequate services are breaking down further and access to health care is becoming even more difficult for farm workers and their children.
- Since Independence in 1980, Zimbabwe has prided itself on expanding access to primary and secondary education. This expansion of educational access was, however, mainly concentrated in communal areas of the country and the commercial farming areas do not feel the benefit to any real extent. In 1998 it was found that 75% of children in rural areas of Zimbabwe of primary age, were attending school. This figure rose to 85% in urban areas but was only 65% in commercial farming areas. Generally the girl child is less likely to complete their education.