White farmers spurn Mugabe's lease offer

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The Independent Online

White farmers evicted from their land in President Robert Mugabe's violent land seizures are likely to spurn his offer to get their land back and help in reversing Zimbabwe's economic collapse.

In a major policy U-turn, Mr Mugabe's embattled regime, fighting soaring inflation close to 1,000 per cent and 80 per cent unemployment, offered 99-year leases to farmers for their land in a desperate attempt to revive Zimbabwean agriculture, which has all but collapsed.

But many of the farmers are not impressed. Even as the government was extending its olive branch at the weekend, Mr Mugabe's militant supporters violently evicted two farmers in Zimbabwe's Midlands Province.

"I have long stopped taking this government seriously and I see no sincerity in its promise to give land back," said Hans Oosthuizen, a farmer who lost his land and is now working in South Africa.

"I know many of my colleagues feel the same and I don't see them abandoning whatever they have started in foreign lands to rush back into Mugabe's arms."

A farmer still operating in Zimbabwe said those most likely to accept the 99-year leases were the 300 farmers who remained on their land after surviving the six years of violent land seizures which saw about 4,000 others being evicted.

"I think most of the offers for leases will be accepted by these guys because they have no other option but to try and get back into farming to survive," said the farmer, who asked that he should not be identified. "But agriculture will never be the same again."

Many of the evicted farmers relocated to neighbouring countries, mainly Mozambique, Zambia, Malawi and South Africa. Others went as far as Nigeria, while others left farming altogether and migrated to get new jobs or settle with children in Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand.

Others moved to settle in Zimbabwe's towns and cities while awaiting the outcome of their legal challenges to the seizures. Hopes were dashed when Mr Mugabe changed the constitution to nationalise all farmland and nullify their court applications.