A white Zimbabwean farmer who lost his farm under former President Robert Mugabe’s controversial land reform programme returned “elated” on Friday after the intervention of the country’s new leader.
Robert Smart, 70, and his family returned to Lesbury Estates, about 30 km outside the town of Rusape, a place they had lived their whole lives, accompanied by members of the military and police.
Mr. Smart was welcomed by hundreds of his former farm employees and local villagers who sang songs as the farmer returned to his property thanks to the intervention of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
“I am elated, I’m so happy to be here, but I’m worried that most of my property was vandalised by Trevor Manhanga,’’ he said.
Mr. Manhanga, a bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Zimbabwe Church, was offered Mr. Smart’s 700-hectare property by authorities earlier this year as Mr. Mugabe intensified land grabs ahead of 2018 elections.
Mr. Smart becomes the first white farmer to return to his land following a November coup that saw Mr. Mugabe ousted and replaced with Mr. Mnangagwa.
“I want to thank President Mnangagwa for facilitating my return,’’ Mr. Smart said.
Lands and Agriculture Minister Perrance Shiri recently ordered people illegally settled on some farms to leave.
It is not clear, however, whether the directive was meant to clear the way for the return of more displaced white farmers.