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In ‘Mugabe and the White African,’ Farmers Struggle Against Brutal Land Reforms

July 21, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT
The documentary "Mugabe and the White African" follows a white Zimbabwean farmer who files an international lawsuit against Robert Mugabe's violent land-reform program. This excerpt is part of The Economist Film Project series of independently produced films aired in partnership between The Economist and the PBS NewsHour.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to Zimbabwe for another of our film project collaborations with The Economist magazine.

Filmmakers Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson spent 2008 recording the experiences of a white family who challenged the land reform policy of President Robert Mugabe. It was designed to reallocate white-owned land to poor black farmers. But Mugabe’s henchmen were often the chief beneficiaries.

Mike Campbell claimed that the policy violated human rights laws, and filed suit in an international court based in South Africa.

Here is an excerpt from the film “Mugabe and the White African.” Much of it was shot with a hidden camera.

MIKE CAMPBELL, farm owner: Their plan is to remove every white farmer off the land. And now we have gone to an international court. And I think this is the last chance we have got to — to keep white farmers here.

BEN FREETH, son-in-law of Mike Campbell: So, this case is a huge responsibility. And I know that it wears on Mike’s mind constantly. This case is a direct challenge to Robert Mugabe and his government, but it’s also a challenge to the rest of the world.

We want the world to wake up to the injustices of what is happening inside Zimbabwe. Mugabe doesn’t want harmony between blacks and whites. He wants the whites to hate the blacks and he wants the blacks to hate the whites.

MAN: Since the land invasion of in 2000, we have had many encounters with Mugabe’s ZANU-PF activists. They can arrive unannounced at any time. We have to be constantly on our guard. Now we find ourselves listening for every vehicle that drives in. As soon as it arrives, you go and have a look wherever it is — or who it is. And, usually, it’s the farm invaders, which is quite threatening.

MAN: Remember, you must help each other.



MIKE CAMPBELL: I have just been to the heard guard in the compound. And, apparently, they were there. I had told the guard that at the end of the month when ZANU-PF gets in, then I’m history. I’m gone. I will be off the farm and it will be theirs. So we have got to fight back.

I mean, there’s no law and order. We can’t go to the police. You know, you have got to do something. Otherwise, you will just lie on your back and put your legs and arms in the air and call it a day.

BEN FREETH: It’s not about hurting these people. We need to let them know, though, that we will protect our guards, we’re serious about protecting this farm.

You know, I think a country without a rule book is rather like a football game or a rugby game that doesn’t have rules, doesn’t have a referee. It would just end up in absolute chaos with lots of people getting hurt. And that’s exactly what’s happening in Zimbabwe at the moment.

People are just playing by their own rules. There’s no one blowing any whistles at the moment. There’s no one keeping to any of the rules of the game. And that’s why we need to bring referees in from outside who are prepared to make sure that the rules are upheld.

JEREMY GAUNTLETT, lead counsel: I think Mike Campbell is a very committed man who is angry because he has been prosecuted for the unique offense of living in his own house and farming his own farm to which he holds the title deeds, a farm which he acquired in 1980 after independence, purchased on the open market and on a certificate of no interest by the Zimbabwean government. It’s distinctly racially discriminatory.

ELIZE ANGULA, instructing attorney: They want the farmers out of Zimbabwe. They want to tell them that they’re not Zimbabwean and they are not African. But that’s racist. You can’t adopt a constitution saying, we will respect your racial orientation, your racial background, and then say, white farmers shouldn’t own land in Zimbabwe. Come with me.

That’s what they did, so there is no justification to go for the farms that these farmers now currently have.

JEREMY GAUNTLETT: This case has to be the most interesting in the sense that he is, as it were, despite his age, a new generation, committed Zimbabwean, employing lots of people, a model employer. And, yet, because he is white, he has been scheduled as being liable without more to be moved off that land. So it’s got at the core of it a vague, racist and entirely unenforceable description.

MIKE CAMPBELL: If we win the case, the whole land reform program in Zimbabwe becomes illegal. Then every farmer that’s been kicked off his land has got the right to come back to his farm.

BEN FREETH: Good morning. How are you, Mr. Chamada?

PETER CHAMADA, Zimbabwe: How are you?

BEN FREETH: What are you doing here?

PETER CHAMADA: I’m here for my land.

BEN FREETH: For your land?



PETER CHAMADA: That you’ve taken. It was given to me four years ago by the government…

BEN FREETH: No, we have been to the SADC tribunal, as you know, Mr. Chamada.


BEN FREETH: Yes. And SADC has said…


BEN FREETH: SADC has given us full relief until the main case.





PETER CHAMADA: They had the same feeling as I have.

BEN FREETH: And SADC has said, until the main case, you cannot interfere.

PETER CHAMADA: Is that why you’re refusing to get out of this farm? Tell me.

BEN FREETH: This is my home, Mr. Chamada.

PETER CHAMADA: It is your home. Well, you’re in the wrong home. Who did you pay? The African — the African, or you paid another white villain?

BEN FREETH: We paid transfer duties to the Zimbabwe government.


BEN FREETH: We bought it on a willing-seller/willing-buyer basis.


BEN FREETH: We didn’t steal it.

PETER CHAMADA: Is it? Now, anyway, that’s unfortunate, because we have realized, without land, we have nothing. That’s why are here.

BEN FREETH: But you have got land, Mr. Chamada.

PETER CHAMADA: We have no land.

BEN FREETH: I have been to your house in Harare.

PETER CHAMADA: Yes. Have you?


PETER CHAMADA: You have been raiding my home also?

BEN FREETH: No, I have driven past it. The guard wouldn’t let me through the gate.

PETER CHAMADA: Is it? So what were you looking for?

BEN FREETH: I was coming to see where you lived.

PETER CHAMADA: And do what?

BEN FREETH: Well, if you want to steal my house, maybe you can give me your house.

PETER CHAMADA: The land belongs to the black peasant. It is ours. The government took it from you people to redistribute it to the black poor majority.

BEN FREETH: And ministers are the black poor majority? Every time you come, you come in a brand new car. This is Toyota Prado…

PETER CHAMADA: What has this got to do with my land?

BEN FREETH: … worth about 50,000 U.S. dollars.

PETER CHAMADA: But what has this got to do with my land?

BEN FREETH: Last time, it was a brand-new white twin cab.


BEN FREETH: Before that, it was a Jeep Cherokee.

PETER CHAMADA: How about you?

BEN FREETH: If you have got all this money, why can’t you buy somewhere?

PETER CHAMADA: I can’t buy land in U.K.

BEN FREETH: Why not?

PETER CHAMADA: My father — my father, it is now everything that he has in London, in America, has all been frozen. You have taken it — with my father not even allowed to go to your country. But you’re still here. We are so tired of you guys.

BEN FREETH: Can a white person not be a Zimbabwean anymore?

PETER CHAMADA: Not anymore. We don’t want you anymore. Get it, right? We don’t.

BEN FREETH: But we are Zimbabweans.

PETER CHAMADA: We don’t care whether Indian, Malawi, Kalanga, whatnot. We don’t just want you in particular. It will never be a colony again, this country.

BEN FREETH: I realize that, Mr. Chamada.

PETER CHAMADA: It will never — it will never be a colony.

BEN FREETH: Then we missed…

PETER CHAMADA: I will sleep here until you are out. And I mean it. I want you out.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The court eventually ruled in Campbell’s favor, but, in August 2009, Mugabe’s men burned his farm to the ground. He died this year at age 79.

“Mugabe and the White African” can be seen next Tuesday on “POV” on PBS.

On our website, Hari Sreenivasan talks with Campbell’s son-in-law about the family’s legal challenge.

And you can learn about The Economist Film Project or submit your own film at