A white Zimbabwean farmer evicted by gun-wielding police and a mob associated with the ruling party has returned to a hero's welcome, in a sign that new President Emmerson Mnangagwa is charting a path away from predecessor Robert Mugabe on an issue that had hastened the country's international isolation. With a military escort, Robert Smart made his way into Lesbury farm about 124 miles east of the capital, Harare, on Thursday to cheers from 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, the AP reports. "I am ecstatic. Words cannot describe the feeling," said Smart's son Darryn.
Ruling ZANU-PF party supporters evicted many of Zimbabwe's white farmers under an often violent land reform program led by Mugabe. Whites make up less than 1% of the southern African country's population, and Mugabe said the evictions were meant to address colonial land ownership imbalances skewed against blacks. Some in the international community responded with outrage and sanctions. Of the roughly 4,500 white farmers before the land reforms began in 2000, only a few hundred are left. The Commercial Farmers Union, which represents mainly white farmers, said it plans to meet the lands minister."I am advising our members to be patient and give it time. But I do see many of them going back into farming," said Peter Steyl, the union's vice president. (Read more about Mnangagwa, called "the Crocodile," here.)