Zimbabwe’s once proud white farming community is facing extinction, as President Robert Mugabe steps up his campaign of violence and intimidation on all fronts.
Virtually all of the remaining 280 white farmers have been invaded by government supporters since Mr Mugabe lost the first round of the presidential election in March.
Yesterday Reinier van Rensburg left Upper Romsey farm for the final time, evicted by a senior official in the ruling Zanu-PF party.
He was the last of his family to cultivate the rich soil around Upper Romsey, some of the finest in Africa, on land which stretched from his homestead to the hills on the horizon, and beyond.
“This is my last day,” he said, as his few remaining staff loaded scrap metal and spare parts on to a lorry. “That’s it, we will have to get permission from court before we will be able to come back here.
“I try not to think about it. It’s obviously an emotional thing. That’s your livelihood.”
Moments after he drove out of the gate an eagle swooped low over his vehicle, as if in a farewell salute.
Land and independence are the central planks of Mr Mugabe’s propaganda campaign for re-election as president.
Judicial moves to take over properties have been stepped up since the elections in March, which resulted in defeat for Zanu-PF in parliament and Mr Mugabe trailing Morgan Tsvangirai in the first round of the presidential poll.
“It’s just very disappointing,” said Mr van Rensburg, 37, who is married with two children. “I feel betrayed by the government. All we were doing was growing food for the country. We were not getting involved in politics or anything. What did we do?”
His father, also Reinier, 69, said: “I have been there for 40 years. That’s my whole life.”
Mr van Rensburg is one of 10 siblings and the family used to own 10 properties covering 32,000 acres. But in 2004, four years into Mr Mugabe’s violent land seizure programme, they surrendered nine of them to the government in exchange for a promise that they could keep the last remaining one, Upper Romsey farm, at Lions Den, a mere 2,000-odd acres about 80 miles north of Harare.
“We didn’t even hesitate. We agreed to that immediately,” said Mr van Rensburg. “By then we were already in survival mode.”
But last year Moris Mpofu, an official of Zimbabwe’s Reserve Bank, arrived at the property holding an offer letter from Didymus Mutasa, the minister of land and resettlement, giving him ownership of the land. A series of court actions followed, and in November around 60 Zanu-PF militia installed themselves on the farm. Mr Van Rensburg’s workers were abused and threatened, and his manager’s wife beaten up.
Mr Mpofu is reaping the summer crop of maize and soybeans Mr van Rensburg planted, worth around £400,000, and the business is being asset-stripped. About 70 farm workers were mostly left unemployed and many joined the exodus to South Africa.
Finally a fortnight ago a court issued a final eviction order against Mr van Rensburg, who is Zimbabwean-born.
“They just carry on and do as they wish,” he said. “They are spelling out point blank that there’s no place for a white man in Zimbabwe. If we were prepared to make a deal to give them nine farms and remain with one and that was not good enough, tell me what would be good enough.”
He insisted: “We are staying here and we have no intention of going anywhere.”
But he said change—of policy, not necessarily of government—was essential. “I still hope,” he said. “That’s the only hope we have.”
Zimbabwe’s telephone system is barely functioning and Mr Mpofu could not be reached for comment.