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Social Science Agriculture & Food

Farm Labor Struggles in Zimbabwe

The Ground of Politics

by (author) Blair Rutherford

Indiana University Press
Initial publish date
Dec 2016
Agriculture & Food
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2016
    List Price
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2016
    List Price

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In the early twenty-first century, white-owned farms in Zimbabwe were subject to large-scale occupations by black urban dwellers in an increasingly violent struggle between national electoral politics, land reform, and contestations over democracy. Were the black occupiers being freed from racist bondage as cheap laborers by the state-supported massive land redistribution, or were they victims of state violence who had been denied access to their homes, social services, and jobs? Blair Rutherford examines the unequal social and power relations shaping the lives, livelihoods, and struggles of some of the farm workers during this momentous period in Zimbabwean history. His analysis is anchored in the time he spent on a horticultural farm just east of Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, that was embroiled in the tumult of political violence associated with jambanja, the democratization movement. Rutherford complicates this analysis by showing that there was far more in play than political oppression by a corrupt and authoritarian regime and a movement to rectify racial and colonial land imbalances, as dominant narratives would have it. Instead, he reveals, farm worker livelihoods, access to land, gendered violence, and conflicting promises of rights and sovereignty played a more important role in the political economy of citizenship and labor than had been imagined.

About the author

Blair Rutherford is professor and chair of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Carleton University.

Blair Rutherford's profile page

Editorial Reviews

In this rich ethnography of the world of farm workers at the turn of the century, Rutherford skillfully demonstrates the entanglement of labor struggles with national politics. . . . On the whole, this work is a good contribution to agrarian studies, labor studies, and postcolonial politics in Africa.

African Studies Quarterly

This book makes a fundamental contribution to expanding our understanding of agrarian politics in Zimbabwe.

Journal of Southern African Studies



Farm Labor Struggles in Zimbabwe is an excellent ethnographic study of farmworkers in Zimbabwe and how they negotiated their belonging and carved out new livelihoods in the context of an agrarian revolution. This book should be on the shelf of anyone with an interest in land reform, farm labour, identity and belonging in Zimbabwe and beyond.


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