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by Tatenda Chitagu 30/06/19

While his age mates are busy in school, for him and several others from the nearby Chingwizi settlement — consisting of hapless and impoverished 18 000 flood survivors displaced from the country’s biggest inland dam, Tugwi Mukosi — they are at work. This has been their daily routine for almost three years and the practice did not start with the flood survivors, a four-month investigation by The Standard in conjunction with the Information Development Trust (IDT) revealed. The teens, who are doing this work previously done by migrant workers, also risk falling into the deadly canals that draw water from Lake Mutirikwi, which have become easy suicide methods for people in the Lowveld who just throw themselves into the ferocious waters.The resettlement is a long distance away from schools.

This publication caught up with him and other child cane cutters in Mkwasine Estates’ Porepore section, where he said he is given $120 a month through mobile payment platform Ecocash — a salary, which erratically comes or sometimes is substituted by second-hand clothes or a few groceries.

The monthly wage for cane workers is pegged at $180, according to the Progressive Agriculture and Allied Industries Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe.

Upon realising he was talking to a journalist, the young cane cutter refused to divulge the identity of his employer, saying he was afraid he would be fired.

The area has new, indigenous farmers who benefited from the chaotic land reform programme implemented haphazardly from the year 2000.

He said he dropped out of school at Nyuni Secondary School while in Form Two aged 15.

A teacher at Nyuni Primary School who spoke on condition of anonymity due to protocol said their enrolment was very low because pupils have to work to raise income for their impoverished parents.

Those whacking cane may be lucky ones compared to their compatriots who work night shifts guarding the cane from wild animals, according to another minor worker in the cane plantations.

The practice is going on secretly under the cover of the lush green fields and is difficult to detect since it is done in the underworld, save for when it is cutting season.

But by indications of some who are old enough but were employed while still minors like Tendai, child labour has been going on for a long time now.

According to a 2016 report by the Progressive Teachers’ Union of Zimbabwe (PTUZ), more than 1 000 pupils from Chingwizi settlement dropped out of school in 2016.

The report — titled The Dilemma of Learning at Chingwizi —noted that distant satellite schools faced great challenges,which hindered enrolment.

The recent United Nations Human Development Report for Zimbabwe, which assesses some human development indicators, says the primary school dropout rate (% of primary school cohort) in the country stands at 23,1%, while the inequality in education stands at 16,8%.

At least 68,5% of the population is employed in the agriculture industry, according to the report.

A Chingwizi parent, whose identity has been concealed to protect her child, said she had no option, but to let her teenage son look for employment since she is ill and cannot fend for herself and two other children.

Progressive Agriculture and Allied Industries Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe secretary-general Raymond Sixpence confirmed child labour was rife in the cane fields owned by new farmers.

The consumer basket of goods for a family of five has shot up to RTGS$750 per month, according to the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, while official inflation figures are close to 100%.

Sixpence said the use of child labourers in the sugar industry may be a tip of the iceberg in the general agriculture industry.

However, Labour deputy minister Lovemore Matuke said he was unaware of the practice, but promised to investigate the allegations.