'Why should I leave? I'm as African as the squatters'

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The Independent Online

The parents of Daniel Vaideman, a white farmer at Goromondzi near Harare, are buried on his Zimbabwe farm and he has no intention of fleeing in the face of mass land invasions by black squatters.

"I came from Tanganyika [Tanzania] and have been here since 1963 and I bought this land, I did not take it," he says. "My blood is as red as that of any of the land invaders who have come to my farm. My mind is like his mind. I am as African as he is.''

Mr Vaideman, like manyamong Zimbabwe's estimated 80,000 whites and 20,000 Asians, has been considering his options since supporters of President Robert Mugabe occupied white-owned farms after the government's land reform proposals were defeated in a referendum in February.

Damian Griffiths, an Australian immigration lawyer in Harare, says: "Most of those who were going to leave got out at the end of white rule in 1980. Nevertheless, a great many are making inquiries.''

Mr Griffiths, from Brisbane, has offices across the white-settled southern hemisphere, but Harare has been his busiest branch by far since the beginning of this year, when President Mugabe stepped up his pre-election rhetoric against whites. Now, with about 1,000 commercial farms, most of them white-owned, having been subjected to land invasions, Mr Griffiths is seeing a broader range of candidates.

He says: "There has always been a steady stream of professionals seeking to go to Australia but now for the first time I am seeing farmers and Asian businessmen. The Australian consular office in Pretoria, which handles applications from here, is now my country's busiest station in the world.''

Mr Griffiths gives bi-monthly free seminars, which he says are very popular, and estimates that 10 per cent of those who come to hear his sales patter about the Australian weather, the rugby, the cricket and the high standard of living apply for immigration.

But many, he added, discover that they are economic prisoners in Zimbabwe because their assets are all held in the local, ever-weakening, Zim dollar. Officially, emigrating residents may take only Z$10,000 (£170) out of the country, though these regulations are widely flouted and many whites admit they have offshore accounts.

Others do not want to leave, considering themselves as Zimbabwean as any of their countrymen with black skin. While Britain estimates that 20,000 Zimbabweans hold British passports - or have the right to one - many more are third or fourth generation offspring of settlers with no option but to stay or to apply for entry to Australia, New Zealand or Canada.

Daniel Vaideman is known locally as "Colonel Swahili" because he was a soldier in the Rhodesian army - which fought the black liberators - and speaks Kiswahili, which Shona speakers can understand. He is so popular among black subsistence farmers in Goromondzi that they chased 200 land invaders from his 400-hectare farm last Friday.

He said: "We help each other here. My black neighboursuse my land for grazing, and come and cut grass for their roofs every year. As for the invaders, who say they are war veterans, I talk to them like I talk to all fellow soldiers. I am not scared. There is plenty of land in Zimbabwe and it can all be made productive. Why should I leave?''

Other whites echo his feelings. Mick Pearce, a 62-year-old architect in Harare, was arrested 10 days ago during a pro-democracy demonstration, and released 48 hours later. He was a gun-runner for Zimbabwean liberation fighters and feels he is needed more than ever by his country. "I am very disappointed in the ruling party," he says, "but this country has so much potential and the race relations are generally so good that it can only get better if we have a new government.''

But the British High Commission has been deluged with inquiries, as have the Canadian and Australian missions in South Africa, which handle immigration applications from Zimbabwe. All refuse to give figures for fear of playing into President Mugabe's hands as he lambasts whites as lily-livered in the run-up to the delayed parliamentary elections.

For Gerry Hayes, a retired doctor, and his wife Ina, the time has come to leave. "I had respect for Mugabe - I would even call it admiration - when he stood up in that first speech and said the time had come to forget the past," says Dr Hayes.

"I think most whites who are thinking of leaving are waiting until after the elections to decide. But for us, the time is up. We are not leaving Africa, it is Africa that hasleft us behind."