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Would White Farmers Return to a Post-Mugabe Zimbabwe?

With the current political situation in Zimbabwe, more people are speculating as to what would happen if President Robert Mugabe finally left office.

One question being raised is: Would any of the white farmers who lost their farms to land reform be willing to return to Zimbabwe or at least help in rebuilding the agriculture sector? Zimbabwe was once considered a breadbasket for Southern Africa.

Annabel Hughes is the former executive director of the Zimbabwe Democracy Trust, which for seven years lobbied in Washington for democratic change in Zimbabwe. She is also the daughter of a former white farmer in Zimbabwe. She spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about what the white farmers might do.

“It’s amazing what’s happened just in the last few days how the energy between the Zimbabwean Diaspora has just fired up because of the excitement of the possibility of the Mugabe era being over. But it’s a very complex situation because as much as they would want to go home, because they regard themselves as Zimbabweans and that is their home, those farms have been invaded. They’ve been taken over by other people. Although certainly most of these farmers have access to their title deeds, there’s going to be a question of land tenure now. Who owns what? So, it’s not as simple as just people going back and taking up their lives as they would have done before because they’ve been given some cash,” she says.

Many of the white farmers started over again in other African countries, such as Mozambique, Nigeria and Zambia. “I have a brother who started again in Zambia…although it hasn’t been easy. They’ve had to carve farms out of virgin bush, out of nothing. They had to rely on loans from various governments, from the Zambian government, because they have had everything literally stolen in Zimbabwe…. Multi-million dollar farms were stolen in Zimbabwe. All their farm workers were displaced…. So, yes in certain countries, certainly in Zambia and Nigeria, there’s been a great success for the agricultural exporting of these farmers into other countries. For the first time ever, Zambia started exporting food,” she says.

Asked what it would take to rebuild Zimbabwe’s agriculture sector, Hughes says, “There is certainly the opportunity for Zimbabwe to return to being a bread basket for sub-Saharan Africa. It’s just that the next step that will have to happen, I believe, is there would have to be some sort of commission to work out the situation with land tenure.” She also says there has been a “deep, deep level of corruption,” not only among government officials but even among some white farmers who’ve tried to keep their land. “It’s one complete mess. And it’s all being run by the elite. On the whole, those big commercial farms that were run by white Zimbabweans and owned by white Zimbabweans are now in the hands of Mugabe’s cronies,” she says.