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Their stories encompass the rise and fall of Rhodesia and of Zimbabwe.
But the guerrilla war waged by Robert Mugabe and other African nationalists took a deadly toll and eventually crippled the economy. Many whites left towards the end of the Rhodesian war in the late 1970s and the advent to power of Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party. But others stayed on, as the transition to black rule did not change the good life they enjoyed. Most whites in Harare, the capital, had servants and swimming pools.
The good life diminished after 2000 when Mugabe began seizing white-owned farms and his rhetoric became more belligerent. His government embarked upon uncontrolled spending to ensure support of the black veterans of the bush war and Zimbabwe's economy plunged into crisis. The country’s middle class — both white and black — emigrated in droves leaving behind the remains of a once mighty colonial occupation.
Of the estimated 40,000 whites who remain in Zimbabwe today, some 5,000 are thought eligible for the British government’s resettlement scheme.
“What I will miss most is the warmth,” Len who is house-bound conceded, “but I cannot afford to be ill.”
While Zimbabwe has modern health facilities, they are all privately-run and benefit only those with expensive insurance. In Britain the elderly whites will be cared for by the National Health Service which is free.
Zimbabwe’s subtropical climate is reckoned to be among the most pleasant in the world — “the only thing Mugabe can’t ruin,” quip Harare wags. At 5,000 feet Harare’s “champagne air” — so called because it is dry and sparkling — is one of the country’s great attractions.
Now this forlorn little community of pensioners, many in retirement homes, is kept going by remittances from their offspring and surreptitious local generosity.
Phyllis Hatton, 84, won’t be among those going “home” to Britain. She came out in 1953, married and raised a son who is now 52 and lives in Zimbabwe. She has a small income from investments and lives in a senior citizens center.
“I couldn’t face that weather,” she says of England. “Looking out at that bleak grey landscape every day would depress me beyond words.
“Anyway, my son is here and I see him every week. I couldn’t dump myself on nephews and nieces.”
As she spoke, Harare enjoyed another utterly predictable warm and sunny winter’s day.
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