White farmer gets land back under Zimbabwe's new leader Farmer Darryn Smart and his family are welcomed back to their farm by workers and community members Credit: Farai Mutsaka/AP Our Foreign Staff 22 December 2017 • 3:41pm A white Zimbabwean farmer evicted by the government of Robert Mugabe has returned to a hero's welcome as the first to get his land back under the new president, in a sign of reform 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 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. Two decades ago, their arrival would have meant that Smart and his family would have to leave. 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. Farmers, Darryn, left and Robert Smart, right, are welcomed back to their farm Credit: Farai Mutsaka/AP Whites make up less than one per cent of the southern African country's population, but they owned huge tracts of land while blacks remained in largely unproductive areas. The evictions were meant to address colonial land ownership imbalances skewed against blacks, Mugabe said. 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. But Mugabe is gone, resigning last month after the military and ruling party turned against him amid fears that his wife was positioning herself to take power. New President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a longtime Mugabe ally but stung by his firing as vice president, has promised to undo some land reforms as he seeks to revive the once-prosperous economy. The family who were evicted by gun-wielding police and a mob associated with the ruling party returned to a hero's welcome Credit: Farai Mutsaka/ AP Mr Smart is the first to have his farm returned. On Thursday, some war veterans and local traditional leaders joined farm workers and villagers in song to welcome his family home. "Oh, Darryn," one woman cried, dashing to embrace Mr 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, 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 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. Zimbabwe is mainly agricultural, with 80 percent of the population depending on it for their livelihoods, according to government figures. Earlier this month, deputy finance minister Terrence Mukupe traveled to neighboring Zambia to engage former white Zimbabwean farmers who have settled there.