New regime in Zimbabwe hands back land to evicted white farmer

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The Zimbabwe government is overseeing the return of a white farmer to land that was seized from him at gunpoint, in what it hailed as a sign of the new president’s “inclusiveness”.

Rob Smart, 71, whooped with joy this week when he was told that he can return to his farm in eastern Zimbabwe – the only home he has ever known.

He and his family, including his young grandchildren and many of their workers, were evicted at gunpoint from their farm in the east of the country nearly six months ago by several gangs loyal to former first lady Grace Mugabe.

Former president Robert Mugabe, 93. was forced to resign last month after 37 years in power after a coup d’etat, in which he was succeeded by his former ally Emmerson Mnangagwa. 

Mr Mugabe supported land invasions from 2000 which saw about 4,000 white farmers evicted, sometimes violently.  Mr Smart told Reuters that Mr Mnangagwa, personally oversaw his return after he heard about the case.

“Apparently Mnangagwa saw that and flipped his lid,” Mr Smart said. One of those who engineered the invasion was Bishop Trevor Manhanga, who leads a church known as the Pentecostal Assemblies of Zimbabwe.

Mr Smart said the “Bishop” tried to prevent him from meeting ruling Zanu PF politicians loyal to Mr Mnangagwa, in Harare earlier in the week. Bishop Manhanga previously confirmed he had been “allocated” Mr Smart’s farm. He did not answer his phone on Thursday.

Chris Mutsvangwa, an adviser to Mr Mnangagwa, said: “Land reform is over. Now we want inclusiveness. All citizens who had a claim to land by birthright, we want them to feel they belong and we want them to build a new country because this economy is shattered.” 

“We were cheered when we told the people we were going home to our farm,” Mr Smart said. “We were very emotional. We have been warned our return may take a few days as police have to clear out those who took the farm. “We know our houses have been trashed and stuff like our fridge was taken, but that’s ok. We have to raise some money and we will plant potatoes as soon as we can.”