Working On the Margins
By Blair Rutherford
Published by Weaver Press (2001)
ISBN 0 7974 2241 2 Pb
FORMER South African President Pieter Willem Botha once said, “The fact that, blacks look like human beings and act like human beings do not necessarily make them sensible human beings.
If God wanted us to be equal to the blacks, he would have created us all of a uniform colour and intellect, but he created us differently: whites, blacks, yellow, rulers and the ruled.”
Botha’s sentiments do not only reflect his way of thinking but a worldview that has been adopted by Europeans to justify their continued interferences in the affairs of Africans.
Through literature by their writers, prominence has been shifted to the advancement of the theory that blacks are second class citizens who need guidance from whites for them to succeed.
In the book Working on the Margins, Blair Rutherford focuses on the welfare of farmworkers before and after independence.
The book is mainly based on fieldwork undertaken between 1992 and 1993 for his doctoral thesis and he concentrates on farms in Hurungwe.
First, one should understand the writer’s background; he is European and was compiling a thesis to be approved by a European University, so, for him to achieve that he had to sing their tune.
Rutherford uses the book to attack the rising crop of black farmers and perpetuate the notion that white farmers were better on the farms.
The writer portrays farmworkers as the most marginalised group under the black Government and that it would have been better for them to work for white farmers.
Apart from being the least paid and working under deplorable conditions, Rutherford writes that farmworkers have always been a target of violence.
He writes that during the liberation struggle, freedom fighters perpetrated violence on farm workers for being loyal to their white masters.
What Rutherford fails to acknowledge is that during the liberation struggle freedom fighters relied on the general public for assistance ranging from information, shelter and food, hence there was no need to abuse them.
Rutherford questions why the African leaders who had promised the farmworkers better conditions after the war had continued to abuse them:
“Why then have farmworkers been the main targets of the violence led by liberation war veterans who have been occupying many hundreds of commercial farms since early 2000?”
The writer deliberately ignores the the point that farmworkers were never on the losing end during the Land Reform Programme as most benefitted from the exercise.
Most farmworkers were upgraded from being mere labourers to farm owners.
To the writer, the Land Reform Programme, which he terms land invasions, brought back bad memories for the workers of the liberation struggle.
“The invasions have reinforced a fear of politics of farmworkers participating in a wider public that is not engineered by the ruling party,” he writes.
“In the early 1990s, farmworkers were scared to talk about politics not only because of farmers’ sanctions against but only because party cadres had inculcated in them the metaphor politikisi ihondo, politics is war, meaning that if anyone ever goes against Zanu PF, in word or at the polling booth, cadres will return to the bush and restart the liberation struggle.”
Rutherford writes of how farmworkers have lost their jobs as well as their housing during the Land Reform Programme and during years of drought leading to them questioning whether their plight had to be attributed to whites.
“Are the varungu (whites) that cruel to us black people that they don’t want us to eat?’ demanded one woman queuing for farm subsidised maize meal during the 1992 drought.
The writer once again tries to create an impression that the ordinary people knew that their woes were not caused by whites but instead by the black Government.
Rutherford creates the impression that Zimbabweans at large were never in support of the Land Reform Programme but supported it out of fear of being victimised by Zanu PF.
The writer’s notion shows that he has limited knowledge of the country’s history as one of the main reasons blacks took up arms was to reclaim their land.
He also fails to acknowledge the fact that Zimbabweans were tired of playing second fiddle to the whites in their own country and were also ready to reclaim their heritage.
If Zimbabweans had not supported the Land Reform Programme, they would not have made great strides in agriculture since they were allocated land.