A white Zimbabwean farmer evicted by gun-wielding police and a mob associated with the ruling party has returned to a hero’s welcome.
With a military escort, Robert Smart made his way into Lesbury farm about 200 kilometers (124 miles) east of the capital, Harare, on Thursday to cheers and song by dozens of workers and community members.
Such scenes were once unthinkable in a country where land ownership is an emotional issue with political and racial overtones.
“We have come to reclaim our farm,” sang black women and men, rushing into the compound.
Ruling ZANU-PF party supporters, led by veterans of the 1970s war against white minority rule, evicted many of Zimbabwe’s white farmers under an often violent land reform program led by Mugabe.
Whites make up less than 1 percent of the southern African country’s population, but they owned huge tracts of land while blacks remained in largely unproductive areas.
Of the roughly 4,500 white farmers before the land reforms began in 2000, only a few hundred are left.
On Thursday, some war veterans and local traditional leaders joined farm workers and villagers in song to welcome Smart’s family home.
“Oh, Darryn,” one woman cried, dashing to embrace Smart’s son.
In a flash, dozens followed her. Some ululated, and others waved triumphant fists in the air.
“I am ecstatic. Words cannot describe the feeling,” Darryn told The Associated Press.
Smart’s return to the farm, facilitated by Mnangagwa’s government, could mark a new turn in the politics of land ownership. During his inauguration last month, Mnangagwa described the land reform as “inevitable,” calling land ownership and management key to economic recovery.
Months before an election scheduled for August 2018 at the latest, the new president is desperate to bring back foreign investors and resolve a severe currency shortage, mass unemployment and dramatic price increases for food and household items.
Zimbabwe is mainly agricultural, with 80 percent of the population depending on it for their livelihoods, according to government figures.