Mugabe and the White African is a story of courage in the face of a seemingly insurmountable adversary – President Mugabe, faith and belief. It is the story of an African whose skin colour just happened to be ‘white’; it is the story of Mike Campbell, his wife, daughter and son-in-law... and their fight against the worst kind of racism, dictatorship, injustice and human rights violation.
The documentary begins with Mike preparing to go to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal, a human rights court, to challenge President Mugabe’s decision to forcefully take his farmland from him. He appears composed in spite of the knowledge that the Tribunal’s decision will either mean losing everything he and his family have worked hard for or success against a dictator – the latter being the unlikely outcome.
Mike Campbell and his family moved to Zimbabwe in the 70s where he purchased a parcel of land with a bank loan; a loan that took twenty odd years to pay back. And for over 3 decades Mike and his family with the help of his son-in-law Ben Freeth turned this parcel of land into a flourishing farm and games reserve, Mount Carmel.
The farm employed over 500 local people who lived and worked on the farm. Ben’s wife, Mike’s daughter, ran a linen business on the farm where the women and girls worked; each woman having between 4 to 5 children. Life was good until things took a turn for the worse when Robert Mugabe became President and began his Land Reform policy - forcing white farmers off their farmlands.
Prior to this Land Reform, the majority of the choice agricultural lands were owned by white commercial farmers leaving the drought-prone regions for black farmers. This situation resulted during the colonial times when black farmers were forced off the lands in favour of colonists. According to the 2002 BBC report, about 4400 white farmers owned 32% of farmlands in Zimbabwe while about 1 million poor black farmers cultivated 38%. This disparity and apparent injustice left bad blood between the white farmers and the black peasant farmers - exploited by Mugabe to sustain his political aspirations.
In a bid to gain popularity and sustain his presidency President Mugabe fast tracked the Land Reform policy In 2000, promising to take back farmlands from white farmers and redistribute to their rightful owners; black farmers – any wonder why many Zimbabweans voted for him?
Although it’s been reported that land was redistributed to the farmers, the majority was given to top government officials, Mugabe’s relatives and judges - who were clueless about farming or managing farmlands.
Farmlands that were once flourishing have been left fallow producing little or nothing for export crippling Zimbabwe’s agricultural economy. Aside from a downturn in agricultural economy, the black farmers and their families who worked on these farmlands, including Mike’s farmland, have been left without jobs and housing as many of them were beaten and driven off the land like their employers.
It’s documentaries such as ‘Mugabe and the White African’ that give people a visual insight into the real issues in Zimbabwe. I was appalled not only by the abject disregard for the law displayed by Mugabe and his thugs (the war veterans and lawyers) but also by the extent at which rights were violated. Mike, his wife and Ben Freeth were forced out of their home, threatened and beaten – what sort of monster beats up elderly people? – And had their basic right to life and security, freedom from torture and inhuman treatment and ownership of property violated.
The court hearing was deliberately postponed many times by Mugabe’s lawyers for unreasonable reasons, showing how little regard they had for the proceedings and their confidence that they can get away with anything. However, by some divine intervention Mike and his family finally got the justice they deserved:
“The tribunal condemned the seizures as “racist” and theft on a grand scale. The farmers could keep their land, it ruled, because the redistribution programme was discriminatory and was not being implemented according to the rule of law.”- The Guardian, 2011
As a Nigerian I know how difficult it can be to win against governments in Africa, particularly one which is authoritarian and corrupt..
Despite the tribunal’s ruling the farm, including the homes of their workers, was burnt to the ground. In spite of this Mike before his death earlier this year put in an application with SADC along with Luke Tembani, a black farmer who was also driven off his farmland, to ensure it continued its function after the member Heads of State requested the Tribunal be suspended.
I salute Mike Campbell and stand firmly behind Ben Freeth and other African Activists as should Africans of all race, colour and creed as they continually risk their lives to expose Human rights violations in Africa and challenge corrupt and authoritarian African leaders such as Mugabe.