- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 4, 2007

PRETORIA, South Africa — For Rod Swales and many of Zimbabwe’s 4,000 other white farmers forced off their property by President Robert Mugabe’s land reforms, the chance to start afresh somewhere else was too good to pass up.

Neighboring countries welcomed them with open arms and furnished them with land, while agricultural companies provided them with cash incentives. But five years later, 52-year-old Mr. Swales is back in Zimbabwe at the forefront of a new wave of pioneers.

Far from being deterred by the country’s downward economic spiral, the farmers are convinced that it will hasten the end of Mr. Mugabe’s rule and speed the day when they can set up in business once again.

“I do believe the wheel is turning and sanity will prevail at some stage,” Mr. Swales said. “I speak to various [governing party] moderates and all of them advise us to be patient, there will be change, this thing can’t continue.”

Mr. Swales thinks Mr. Mugabe’s regime is nearing the end, that an economy battered by inflation reported to have hit 13,000 percent in June and where supplies of even basic foods such as corn flour and cooking oil have dried up, must surely soon collapse.

“I might not get my farm back, but when the dust settles, I might get another farm. Maybe I’ll buy a farm from someone who doesn’t want to come back to Zimbabwe. I have to hope I can survive that long and wait out old Bob.”

In 2002, Mr. Swales and his family were forcibly evicted from their 1,976-acre farm in Darwendale, 50 miles northwest of Harare, by a mob of so-called “war veterans.” The chance to move over the border to Chimoio, in Mozambique, was too good to turn down.

Like many of those now returning to Zimbabwe, Mr. Swales was part of a program sponsored by tobacco companies such as Universal Leaf Tobacco. The companies provided startup capital and seasonal loans. In return, the farmers agreed to grow a set number of acres of tobacco, which they would sell to the companies.

However, in the hotter and wetter climate of Mozambique, the tobacco yields turned out to be substantially less than the companies had projected. Soon the farmers fell into debt, and many stopped growing tobacco altogether, whereupon the tobacco companies took them to court to seize their equipment.

Although Mr. Swales could have gone to South Africa, where he has relatives, or applied for residency in Britain, because his grandfather came from Yorkshire, he chose to return to Zimbabwe, where he is running a small transportation business based in Harare.

“My wife must have asked me a million times what … we are doing here,” he said.

But he thinks Mr. Mugabe’s time is nearly up, and he is not alone. At least 70 other farmers have returned after the collapse of their new farming ventures, most of them from Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi.

“There were about 30 of us Zimbabweans in Chimoio,” Mr. Swales said. “Right now, there are probably no more than 10 left, and of those only two are still farming.”

John Worswick, of the lobby group Justice for Agriculture, said the returning farmers thought that within a year or two the country would turn around and return to conditions conducive for agricultural production.

“They’ve come back licking their wounds and set up in other businesses,” he said. “Most of these guys keep a pretty close eye on their old properties. Their view is that, given a reasonable incentive package, they can get their farms back to production within two years and back up to the state they were in before within five years, so they’ve decided to sit it out.”

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