Beatrice (Zimbabwe) (AFP) – Standing outside the gates of the farmhouse from which he was evicted in 2008, white Zimbabwean Deon Theron knows he will never get his land back.
But he does believe that Robert Mugabe’s fall after almost 40 years in power could lead the new government to encourage white farmers to play a part in reviving the country’s key agricultural sector.
Thousands of white farmers were forced off their land by violent Mugabe-backed mobs or evicted in dubious legal judgements, supposedly to help black people marginalised under British colonial rule.
The farms, however, were often allocated to Mugabe’s allies and fell into ruin, leaving tens of thousands of rural labourers out of work and sending the economy into a tailspin as food production crashed.
“I was evicted after intimidation, violence and court cases,” said Theron, 63, who now runs a guesthouse in the capital Harare and a dairy processing business.
“I don’t expect my land to be returned, but I do think the government will explore getting people who have the skills back on the farms — and that means younger people from evicted families.”
Days after Mugabe’s fall on November 21, Theron took AFP back to Zanka, the 400-hectare (1,000-acre) farm that he bought in 1984 and where he built his own house and lived for 24 years with his wife, raising three children.
– ‘Block out the memories’ –
“It was given to a top official in the reserve bank,” he said, looking through the locked wire fence at the house and abandoned tennis court in Beatrice, Mashonaland East province, two hours south of Harare.
“I blocked out a lot of memories, and have tried to move on,” he added, close to tears as he recalled how his foreman was beaten to death in 2005 apparently while in police custody during the height of the evictions.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who came to power last week after the military forced Mugabe to resign, is a veteran hardliner from the ruling ZANU-PF party.
However he does not appear to share Mugabe’s ideological hatred of white farmers and has prioritised agriculture to revive the moribund economy.
Mnangagwa used his inaugural speech to stress that the land seizures would not be reversed, vowing instead to compensate evicted farmers and to put the vast tracts of idle land back into production.
“My government is committed to compensating those farmers from whom land was taken,” he said, pledging to “ensure that all land is utilised optimally”.
Agriculture is “central to national stability and…