In what may be the beginning of a major policy shift in land policy from Mugabe’s regime, the Mnangagwa administration has ordered the return of Lesbury Farm in Manicaland to the Smart family, which had occupied it for eighty years. Manicaland is 165 miles from Harare near the border of Mozambique and is the second most populous province in Zimbabwe. In June, the farm was seized by heavily armed riot police from the Smart family and turned over to Trevor Manhanga, a bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of Zimbabwe and supporter of then-president Robert Mugabe.
With the restitution to the Smart family, Chris Mutsvangwa—a leader of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association and an ally of Mnangagwa—said, “Land reform is over. Now we want inclusiveness. All citizens who had a claim to land by birthright, we want them to feel they belong and we want them to build new country because the economy is shattered.”
Under the Smart family, Lesbury Farm employed at least one hundred people, providing a livelihood for hundreds more extended family members of those employed. The Smart family was popular with the local people, in part because it paid its workers on time.
The wholesale destruction of the commercial agricultural sector by the expulsion of white farmers gravely damaged the Zimbabwean economy and drove up rural unemployment. If the white farmers are to return to the land, commercial agriculture might quickly recover, with reductions in rural unemployment. Further, the return of farms might reassure potential investors in Zimbabwe that the Mnangagwa government will respect property rights. Such a policy shift would be particularly welcomed by the right wing of United Kingdom Prime Minister Theresa May’s Tory party, which has long supported the white farmers as a “kith and kin” issue.
The June seizure of the farm followed a Mugabe speech in which the president called for all of the remaining white commercial farmers to be expelled from their land. Mugabe had made expropriation of white-owned land without compensation a central platform of his regime. According to Mutsvangwa however, with the economy again in tatters, economic pragmatism is apparently trumping ideology.