First white Zimbabwean farmer to return praises change in government attitude | Africa | DW | 22.12.2017
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Land reform

First white Zimbabwean farmer to return praises change in government attitude

After having been evicted by armed police in June 2017, Robert Smart (70) is now back on his farm. He tells DW what it means to him to be back.

DW: Mr Smart, please tell us the story of your farm in Zimbabwe.

Robert Smart: It all started with my dad in the 1930s in what was virgin bush. He got it going and it developed from there. We built it up to four farms which were about 8,000 hectares (around 20,000 acres). Then, when the land reform came along, we gave the government 7,000 hectares. They then cut the remaining 1,000 down and gave us 700 hectares.

What happened after that?

In 2015, three guys who'd got so-called "offer letters" from the government (but we found out it was fraudulently done) came to our farm and said: "We've got sections of the bit that's left for you." And we said: "That can't be right because this is our only form of income and our only houses and you guys have all got your own houses." That was against the government policy of "one man, one farm" and so that is why we fought it right from the start. The whole community here was supporting us and our chief said, "Don't leave here, you're one of us." But we were forced to leave when armed police came to kick us out with guns and tear gas. We had no choice but to leave. Since then we have been living like refugees.

Then, when there was a change of government, we met with various government officials and our president made a statement that people like us must go back to their farms. He used us as an example because we were covered by the news media when we were evicted violently. There's been a complete change in attitude with government officials now. When we got back people were so pleased to see us, it was a fantastic feeling. 

So are you back on your farm now?

No, because there is no bed to sleep in, no chair to sit on, no table to eat off. When I got to my place I saw that everything had been taken out and stolen. The house is just an empty shell. Nobody has actually lived there, they just looted everything. Quite a lot of machinery was also trashed. But just over a week ago, the police went up on the instructions of our governor to look for all the stolen property. And in fact they found quite a lot of stuff, household and farm stuff. But other than that, the farm itself and all the lands are fine. We've just got to get the weeds out and we'll be planting potatoes at the beginning of January. The farmers around have offered to help us get the crop in. The public spirit has really been amazing throughout this horrible time we've had.

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Do you have high hopes of the new president? Do you think this is a genuine move?

Yes, I think so far what he's said he is going to do, he has done. We do have confidence but Rome wasn't built in a day. But he's going the right way, unlike the past president [Robert Mugabe] who just ridiculed Britain and the US. We're open to do business with everybody and we've seen investment coming already.

You were only away from your farm for six months but other white farmers were evicted much earlier. What do you think this means for them?  

I don't think the ones who had to leave in 2000 will come back because they've either gone overseas or they're too old to start again. But the youngsters, the forty year-olds and younger, they'll be coming back and they'll be leasing farms. Those like us who lost their farms recently or who've been harassed for the last two or three years, all that's going to stop now and they'll be able to carry on farming like they did in the past.

How about the general feeling between blacks and whites in Zimbabwe? Has this changed?

We've never had a problem with that. Why did everybody want us to come back? Why were they so pleased to see us? This didn't happen overnight. As white Zimbabweans, we've always been together with them. It's never been a problem. So there's not going to be a great change there because there was never any problem.

Robert Smart is the first white Zimbabwean farmer to return to his land following the November coup that ousted President Robert Mugabe.

The interview was conducted by Tessa Clara Walther

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