In many ways, the return of younger white farmers is as much an admission of defeat for them as it is for Mugabe’s supporters. They know they will never own the land.
And they also know that some older evicted white farmers deride them as “cut and runs” or “mercenaries”, viewing them as accessories to theft because they pay rent to beneficiaries of “stolen” land.
Some call them “Born Frees”, as these white farmers were born after 1980 independence.
Yet many of the whites now leasing land were victims of the evictions, too.
A 38-year-old farmer, whose family was evicted from the farm on which he grew up, moved on to land now owned by a black proprietor in the province of Mashonaland Central.
He would rather not know the identity of the farm’s former white owner: “I don’t know who he was or where he is. I don’t know if he is alive. But I grew up on a farm like this, and I am a Zimbabwean. This is my country. I don’t want to go anywhere else.”
Some whites may be trickling back, but there is no prospect of reviving Zimbabwe’s white farming heyday even if Emmerson Mnangagwa, the country’s President since the coup that ousted Mugabe in 2017, is seen as less anti-white than his predecessor.
All but about 200 of Zimbabwe’s white farmers were forced from their homes and deprived of their livelihood when gangs of Mugabe supporters invaded their property in 2000. Those who remain only have access to a small part of their original land holding.
Scores of white farmers and workers were murdered, injured, arrested, beaten and forced to flee. As crops rotted and land went to seed, the economy collapsed.
White farmers’ production accounted for nearly half of the country’s foreign currency earnings. Their purge essentially ripped the engine out of Zimbabwe’s economy.
Ironically, the first-class small-scale black farmers who produced most of the staple food were also decimated by land invasions of their neighbours, the white farmers. Smaller black farmers depended on them for transport. That was lost when the whites left.
Most white farmers have since died or moved abroad, though some live in poverty in Harare, because they only hold Zimbabwean citizenship and are too old to work. Most say they would rather receive compensation than return to farms they were forced from.
Mnangagwa, hoping to win international aid as his country struggles through another financial crisis, has promised to compensate white farmers for “improvements” they made to the land, but not for the land itself, which the constitution says must be paid for by the UK, as the former colonial power.
But even if things are not as they once were, returning white farmers still have a role to play in Zimbabwe.
“They don’t own the land and so this is complicated,” said Andy Pascoe, president of the Commercial Farmers’ Union, which mostly represents the interests of former and remaining white farmers. “But at the end of the day, let’s grow food for our country.” – Sunday Telegraph