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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May, 2005, 08:15 GMT 09:15 UK
Leaving behind Zimbabwe's land
By Grant Ferrett
BBC News

For Lewis, a softly-spoken commercial farmer living west of Harare, it's the $100m question - will he still be able to farm in Zimbabwe in five years' time?

A black farmer in Zimbabwe tills the land
New farmers often have little business knowledge and few assets

Now five years into the government's land redistribution programme, he says he is taking things year by year.

"I feel sometimes that maybe I should stop at the end of the next season. Let's wait and see."

Reflecting his mood of caution, Lewis has cut back by a quarter the production of his main money earner, tobacco.

Role model

He also finds he's distracted from running his own business by requests for help from his new farming neighbours.

Women in a tobacco field in southern Africa
It's just pure jealousy. They see what I have on the farm and wonder why I have it
Lewis, a black commercial farmer

Hundreds of people have been resettled on the farms surrounding Lewis, most of them illegally.

They often have little business knowledge of farming and few assets.

Lewis lends tractors, ploughs fields and even provides basic lessons in agronomy.

But in spite of all the assistance he provides, Lewis thinks some of his neighbours want to bring him down.

"It's just pure jealousy," he sighs.

"They see what I have on the farm and wonder why I have it and they don't. But I've been in many difficult situations and I've learned to put on a thick skin."

Instead of being harassed, Lewis could reasonably expect to be a role model for the Zimbabwean authorities.

That is because Lewis is a highly successful black commercial farmer.

Safety worries

When I first interviewed him more than five years ago, he explained how he hoped to set an example for other would-be farmers.

Zanu-PF supporters
Lewis was forced to attend Zanu-PF rallies

"I need to live an exemplary farming life," he told me.

Now he's considering leaving farming altogether. He's not only worried for his business, but for his personal safety.

In March, during the parliamentary election campaign, he was forced to attend rallies in support of President Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party.

As someone who bought his farm long before the government began seizing white-owned land without paying compensation, Lewis thinks he is viewed with suspicion.

Five years ago I interviewed him at home on the veranda of his large farmhouse.

This time he preferred to meet in the anonymity of a parked car in the suburbs of Harare. Lewis is not his real name.

Future in Africa

One of his former neighbours, John, who also didn't want to be identified, moved into Harare three years ago after being forced off his farm.

As a white man in Africa if you get involved in politics your days are numbered
John, a white ex-farmer

"My grandfather built our home in 1921. Then, one weekend, the police gave us 48 hours to get off.

"They had no paperwork. It was mind-numbing. But a threat's a threat.

"On the back of six or seven farmers being shot in the previous months, we decided to leave."

In spite of the upheaval, John still believes there's a future for him and other white ex-farmers in Zimbabwe.

"My feeling is that if you keep your nose clean and decide that as a white man in Africa you're here to make money and provide development, then you'll be able to stay.

"But if you get involved in politics - then no - your days are numbered."


Another former neighbour, Rob, has joined the exodus of millions of Zimbabweans who've left the country over the past five years.

He and his wife and four children have moved to the thriving coastal town of Mackay in Queensland, Australia.

War veterans threaten a farmer in a truck in Zimbabwe
Here in Australia the biggest worry is whether the washing will be dry
Anna, wife of an ex-farmer

They have a large house close to the beach and are particularly pleased that in contrast to the electrified fences and security alarms of their previous home Zimbabwe; in Australia they can leave all their doors unlocked.

"When you see what we've got here and the friends we've made, there's no way I'd go back to that nonsense in Zimbabwe," says Rob.

His wife, Anna, agrees.

"It was just the uncertainty of not knowing what was going to happen next. Here the biggest worry is whether the washing will be dry."

Back in Zimbabwe, on the day I spoke to Lewis he was arranging to meet his daughter, who is now studying in Australia.

Lewis suspects that even if he is able to carry on farming in Zimbabwe, there's no future in the country for his daughter.

He recently employed an armed guard to protect his cattle after six of his herd were stolen in a single night.

"Land reform was necessary, but not in the way it has been done," he says.

"It wasn't an economic decision, it was a political one."

Grant Ferrett's programme Leaving the Land, will be broadcast on Tuesday 24 May at 20.00 BST, repeated Sunday 29 May at 17.00 BST, on BBC Radio 4.

Farm workers in Zimbabwe describe how they are out of work and hungry


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