x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Film shows whites' plight in Mugabe's Zimbabwe

Documentary recounts the life of a white citizen who faced violence and prosecution for 'living in his own house and farming his own farm'.

The home of Ben Freeth, the son-in-law of Mike Campbell, was burnt down despite an order by a court for him to be protected.
The home of Ben Freeth, the son-in-law of Mike Campbell, was burnt down despite an order by a court for him to be protected.

JOHANNESBURG // When told that a gang of marauding thugs, loyal to Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe and armed with knives and axes, are hiding in his maize crop, Mike Campbell's reaction is shockingly phlegmatic.

"It's no use getting excited, I'll go out when I've finished my drink," he said. The moment is captured in a new documentary, Mugabe and the White African, which records Mr Campbell's attempts to hold on to his 1,200-hectare Mount Carmel Farm in Chegutu, 100km south-west of Harare, in the face of eviction orders by the government and repeated invasions by non-white Zimbabweans. Mr Campbell, 76, bought the farm after Zimbabwean independence in 1980, and after the government said it was not interested in acquiring the farm for resettling landless Zimbabweans. Nonetheless, he has been ordered off the land and has been fighting the decision ever since.

The film title comes from another comment of his: "I have got nowhere else in the world I can go. I can't call myself English or American or Australian and I happen to be white so I'm a white African." The result is a fascinating examination of nationality, identity, and the brutal violence such categories engender. Interspersed with it are comments by Mr Mugabe, in his gravelly tone, such as: "Our present state of mind is you are now our enemies," and, "I will never, never sell my country. I will never, never surrender; Zimbabwe is mine."

Peter Chamada, the son of Nathan Shamuyarira, a Zanu-PF stalwart and former information minister, tells Mr Campbell: "You are in the wrong home, you are in my home." Asked if a white person can still be a Zimbabwean, he responds: "Not any more. We don't want to have anything to do with you any more." Mr Campbell, his wife Angela and his son-in-law Ben Freeth have been savagely beaten, on one occasion suffering broken fingers, a broken arm and a fractured skull respectively, and last week Mr Freeth's house was burnt down, destroying everything he owned, despite an order by a state court for him to be protected by the authorities.

In an unprecedented move, Mr Campbell took his case to an international court, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) tribunal in the Namibian capital Windhoek. In the first case it has ever tried, it found that he had been racially discriminated against as a white Zimbabwean, contrary to the rules of the SADC. The Zimbabwean government is still resisting the judgement, arguing that the court has not been properly set up.

It said: "The judgement of the tribunal can only amount to a hitch or temporary impediment to the process of land reform in Zimbabwe, but the process cannot be stopped." Jeremy Gauntlett, a senior lawyer involved in the case, said: "He has been prosecuted for the unique offence of living in his own house and farming his own farm. It's distinctly racially discriminatory. "Is it possible to be a white man and an African? If you talk to Mugabe, if you talk to Mbeki, if you talk to any of the nationalist leaders, the answer is very definitely no and there's something very wrong in that."

The case has been referred to a forthcoming SADC summit, but it remains to be seen whether the region's leaders are prepared to uphold the court ruling in the face of Mr Mugabe's resistance and the unity government's seeming indifference to the issue. "All the political leaders have paid lip service to human rights and the rule of law by their commitment to the tribunal," said Mr Gauntlett. "Are they going to leave that high and dry? Now really is a moment of truth."

Even so, reactions to the documentary at a private screening at the University of Johannesburg - the film has yet to be released - demonstrated the wider controversies tied up in the land issue in Zimbabwe. Wilfred Mhanda, of the Zimbabwe Liberation Veterans, was outspokent on the issue. "We still need land reform, what has happened in Zimbabwe is anarchy, it has not benefited anyone," Mr Mhanda said. "There's no doubt that an injustice has been done to the white farmers who have been evicted from their farms. The greater injustice has been done to the people of Zimbabwe themselves."

But Wilbert Sadomba, a war veteran and farm invader himself, said that by personalising the issue the film failed to address the wider picture and causes of the land issue. In a parallel with the Campbells, Mr Sadomba said that he spent his life fighting injustice. "If a white man comes from Europe and chucks us from the land and puts us somewhere in a corner I have to tell generations to come I was removed from the land because of the colour of my skin," he said.

"I have to fight, I have to carry on the fight to teach my children. "I have got no regrets and I don't apologise for that." sberger@thenational.ae