The Great Trek north: in an uncanny echo of the Great Trek of 1836, white farmers from Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa are moving north--some going as far as Nigeria. The host governments hope to benefit from the skills of these farmers and the farmers want somewhere safe to settle. Is it a deal made in heaven? Tom Nevin reports.

Author:Nevin, Tom

The welcome mat is out for southern Africa's white farmers as an increasing number of African nations seek to fast track their food production by establishing big commercial agricultural spreads. Africa's new agricultural open-door policy comes at a time when white farmers in southern Africa are facing another Great Trek.

Spooked by the 'Great Zimbabwe Land-Grab', that has claimed the lives of hundreds in the white farming community and jumpy over recent land redistribution enactment by their governments, white farmers in South Africa and Namibia--the last two countries in southern Africa where the majority of agricultural land is in white hands--are increasingly contemplating settling in distant African countries.

Displaced Zimbabwean farmers are already commercially growing crops in Mozambique and Zambia, and are contemplating invitations to settle in Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda. Many of their South African and Namibian counterparts say they won't be far behind.

The Great Trek of 1836 saw thousands of Boer farmers move en masse by ox wagon from their primarily coastal farms to the interior of South Africa to escape increasing repression by the British colonial government. The Great Trek of 2004 will take South Africa's white, mainly Afrikaans-speaking farmers another leap northward.

Cause of the latest wave of anxiety in agricultural South Africa and Namibia are proclamations by both governments giving them statutory powers to forcibly seize farming land from its owners. The legislation is the result of frustration by both governments at the slow pace of land reform. After 10 years, white farmers still occupy 87% of South Africa's agricultural land making a mockery of the June 2004 deadline to shift a big proportion of it into black hands.

Namibia is in a similar quandary. There are about 50,000 commercial farmers in South Africa and, although no formal surveys have been undertaken to back the assertion, many of them are said to be seriously considering The Great Trek of 2004. The vanguard is a contingent of some 300 white farming families that have made the trek north in the last 36 months or so. About 150 have settled in Mozambique, 100 in Zambia and a sprinkling in Tanzania and Uganda.



Encouraged by farming and financial successes enjoyed by Zimbabwean settler farmers in Mozambique, South African ranchers and growers have followed suit.

According to one farmer in South...

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