Zimbabwe — More than 25 homesteads were razed in a veld fire at Solar Farm owned by Craig Davenport in Mount Hampden last week.
Although investigations were still ongoing to establish the origins of the raging fire, the managing director of the farm, Keith Butler, said the fire could possibly have erupted through negligence by one of the farm workers.
However, the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers Union of Zimbabwe (Gapwuz) said the fire incident had exposed the squalid conditions and inhumane treatment that the farm workers were subjected to in the country.
The incident of this fire in a greater way exposes the poor living conditions of farm workers as the pole, dagga and grass houses they live in are not built according to standard, said Tapiwa Zivira, the Gapwuz information officer.
A total of 25 families are now homeless and need food assistance. They lost important documents; kitchen utensils, furniture and clothes, and those who were taking medication are now suffering. Thirty-three women and children and 12 men now sleep in a crèche at the farm and are in desperate need of food and water, Zivira said.
When NewsDay visited the farm, the affected farm workers said the only clothes they remained with were those they were wearing.
Although Butler said the farm had helped the affected families with cups, plates, blankets and a loan of $50 each, the farm workers said that was not enough because some of them had large families of between five and seven.
Butler said the farm workers who did not have brick houses were paid a housing allowance every month so that they can be accommodated elsewhere.
We do not have housing for all our employees and for those who do not have brick houses, we give them a housing allowance so that they rent houses elsewhere. We pay them housing allowances as stipulated by the farmers National Employment Council, he said.
However, workers at the farm produced a payslip that showed that farm workers were given a housing allowance of $2, an amount that is not enough to rent any accommodation.
What worries us most is that now the farm managers want to replace the burnt huts by building other sub-standard grass-thatched houses, which do not solve our problem, the farm workers complained.
Lot Paul, the Gapwuz focal point person at Solar Farm, said the fire could also have been easily put out if there was a water source nearby.
Workers have to go a long distance to get water and if there was tape water nearby, the fire would not have spread, he said.
He said the affected people were appealing for clothes, food, school exercise books and uniforms, blankets and any other donations as they had been left with totally nothing.
Zivira said there was also need for farm workers to be taught about fire hazards as they were a threat on their lives and that of animals.