Farm owners flee after Mugabe’s thugs arrive

Couple fled after Robert Mugabe's thugs arrived

Leo and Bev Skea fled to New Zealand to make new lives for themselves in the face of Mugabe's thugs.

Telegraph By Peta Thornycroft in Harare

25 Sep 2009

The couple were debt-free on their 1,600-acre farm, John O'Groat, having bought in 1996 after the government said it had no interest in acquiring it for land resettlement.

But when the couple returned from holiday in July 2002 they found their farm overrun with "war veterans" loyal to Mr Mugabe.

It was two years since the land invasions had begun, and they quickly decided there was no hope.

They emigrated to New Zealand two weeks later with only $2000 in their pockets and three months to find jobs before their visas ran out.

"We were growing flowers, paprika, grass seed, maize, and had a Brahman-Simmental cattle herd," said Mr Skea. "We had a general store, abattoir and butchery and a large service station in Norton."

But they were young enough, in their late 30s, to go to the other side of the world and begin again.

Other members of their family from the same farming district, whose land was later taken into Mr Mugabe's growing estate in the Darwendale district, were invaded a year earlier, had already paid off their workers and left for Australia as the scale and violence of the land invasions peaked.

The Skeas were astonished to learn, after they left, that their profitable protea section on their home farm had died.

"The irrigation pumps were flooded very soon after we left, despite them digging holes into the main line they could not get the water to come out of the pipe," said Mr Skea.

The Skeas are convinced they made the right move to quit Zimbabwe.

"We had a lot of fun, and made a bit of money in our last season, but we love our life in New Zealand," Mr Skea said.