Swiss farmer suffers in Zimbabwe

Agnes with the tame giraffe, Twiza. Katharina Morello

“It’s like sitting on a time bomb – you never know when it’ll explode.”

This content was published on September 22, 2003

This is how the husband of a Swiss farmer living in Zimbabwe describes life in the southern African nation. However, people like the Walters want to stay because they love the country.

We had been told to turn at milestone 102 and we almost missed the tiny, dusty path leading through the lush outback.

Three women in colourful clothes walked along the side of the road. They were carrying their goods on their heads: firewood, a bundle of sugarcane and a water canister.

“Is this the way to the farm?” we asked them. They answered with a friendly smile and confirmed that we were on the right track.

“They were resettlers,” my local guide told me as we continued on our journey.

A short while later we were sitting behind the house having tea. Agnes Walter* had baked a cake for the occasion. We watched the dogs chasing cackling guinea fowl on the lawn.

In the fifties Agnes’ parents emigrated from Switzerland to Zimbabwe, which was then Southern Rhodesia, where she was born the second of eight children.

She grew up during a time when white farmers were still rich and powerful. Agnes remembers a carefree life, close to nature.

War of independence

Agnes’ parents returned to Switzerland in the seventies, when the war of independence ravaged the country.

"Our farm was right in the line of fire,” Agnes’ father, who now breeds game animals in central Switzerland, remembers.

Agnes, who was 14 at the time, always wanted to return to Zimbabwe. After she had graduated from business school and spent one year working in Switzerland, she went back to her roots.

“Don’t you dare fall in love immediately,” her mother told her on her departure.

"I’ll only fall in love with the country and not with the people,” she replied.

“It only took a few years and we received the wedding invitation through the post,” Agnes’ mother remembers with a smile.

Agnes wanted her children to grow up the way she did, however, she says this is no longer possible.

“For the past three years our sons have not been able to do the things they love because of security.”

Work on the farm, which she manages with her husband, has also been difficult in recent years. “We can’t use about two-thirds of our land,” she explained.

Difficult times

The couple have acquired more than 400 new neighbours, most of them squatters or resettlers. “The government does not care about infrastructure,” Agnes lamented.

“Everything which is not locked or constantly watched is being stolen, animals are killed and trees cut down.”

A little later Agnes’ husband joined us. With his beard, shorts and green broad-rimmed hat, he looked like the stereotype of a typical farmer. He is the son of a pioneer’s family from four generations ago.

“Difficult times,” he replied when asked about the situation in the country. “I constantly feel like I'm sitting on a time bomb.”

After a moment of silence he said: “At the end of the day everybody who has worked hard for what they’ve got is a loser. There are no longer rules in this country.”

swissinfo, Katharina Morello in Zimbabwe (translation: Billi Bierling)

*The name has been changed.

In brief

Britain annexed Zimbabwe, which was then called Southern Rhodesia, from the South Africa Company in 1923.

In 1965 the government declared its independence, but Britain did not recognize the act and demanded more complete voting rights for the black African majority in the country.

UN sanctions and a guerrilla uprising finally led to free elections in 1979 and independence in 1980.

President Robert Mugabe has dominated the country's political system since independence.

His chaotic land redistribution campaign, which began in 2000, led to an exodus of white farmers and crippled the economy.

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