By Peta Thornycroft
Harare - The exodus of Zimbabwe's small and anguished white population is under way with record numbers leaving their homeland, mostly for Britain or Australia.
Few have the R30 000 they need in foreign currency to transport their goods to new countries, and most are starting new lives with 22kg of clothes and a few photographs.
They say they have hung on during the past four tumultuous years hoping President Robert Mugabe's "hate" campaign against them would ease, but it did not, and two months ago when he shut down private schools for a week for raising fees, they lost their nerve.
Estate agents say there has been a flood of houses on to the property market in the past few weeks that has slashed prices to record lows. Thousands of homes from bungalows to mansions along suburban avenues are on sale for as little as R150 000.
Up to three million black Zimbabweans have also gone into exile, mostly for economic reasons, but they hope to return one day. Most whites, of whom perhaps 30 000 remain in Zimbabwe, say they will never return.
"It was a painful decision because this is the only home we know," said Jeremy Callow, 55, one of Zimbabwe's best-known lawyers. "I love Zimbabwe, love the people, but can't take it any more."
The "last straw" is different for each family who boards the planes for distant lands.
Callow succumbed to "relentless" pressure traipsing through the courts to assist white farmers legally recover possessions, and when he succeeded, applying in vain to get court orders enforced.
"I spent 80 percent of my time with farmers counselling them and I am not trained for that, nor can I cope any longer with seeing grown men cry.
"The courts do not have the capacity to process thousands of farms seized by the state. So they change the laws, move the goal posts."
Under a new law ahead of the flawed presidential elections in 2002, Callow, like thousands of other whites born in the country, had to renounce access to British or other foreign claims to citizenship to vote.
"It is costing an arm and a leg to claim my British citizenship now," he said.
Among about 350 white farmers who remain on the land enduring varying levels of instability are some who have never been touched by ruling Zanu-PF party militants but are now abandoning their homes.
"We have recently noticed quite a number who have been left alone the last four years but are leaving," said Hendrik Olivier, the director of the remnants of the once 4 000-strong Commercial Farmers' Union.
One of Zimbabwe's most successful younger industrialists, who asked not to be named, decided to go to Australia a few months after his family was attacked in December in their home about 20km south of Harare. The family moved to the city and tried to settle in a new and glamourous mansion in a leafy suburb. It is now up for sale.
"We couldn't recover. In April I sold my business and as soon as our work permit arrives we will go.
"We have young kids and schools are a problem. I will miss it, especially the bush. We have family in South Africa, but the future is uncertain there."
John Winward, 57, spent Monday night detained in police cells in Karoi, once a prosperous, pretty village 210km north of Harare.
Under pressure from Zanu-PF invaders to get off his farm last week, Winward went to the local police with court orders proving he was allowed to remain until September to process about R1,5 million of crops.
"The policeman didn't believe or understand the court order and locked me up for the night.
"I wish now we had quit when the heat was on a couple of years ago, but I couldn't walk away. I wasted time and money going to court to fight the inevitable.
"If I am left alone to get my tobacco and maize off and sell the cattle, then we will leave for Britain in a few weeks. We won't take anything; we can't afford to."
Father of four, Chris Shepherd, 38, forced off his Karoi farm 21 months ago and now almost penniless in Harare said he would never leave and waited for signs that the madness was waning.
"I am going to Australia at the end of the month to look for a job, perhaps as a labourer, and I do this with a heavy heart," he said.
David Coltart, an Opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MP, said: "This is ethnic cleansing, not in the Bosnian sense of the phrase, as they knew they couldn't get away with wholesale murder, it's more subtle, designed to drive out whites because Mugabe believes whites provide funding and administrative support to the MDC.
"A year ago minister Jonathan Moyo said whites would be 'sent out of the country' because they created the MDC. They are woefully mistaken if they think that driving them out will crush the MDC," he said.
"The laws were changed to deprive whites of any land they owned. Private schools were closed to get at whites even though most pupils are black.
"Mugabe said whites were 'enemies of the people' and he is still hammering away at them." - Foreign Service