‘Mugabe and the White African’ Looks at Zimbabwe’s Land Battles

BY Saskia de Melker  July 21, 2011 at 6:21 PM EDT

On Thursday’s NewsHour, we’re aired part of the film ‘Mugabe and the White African’, a documentary that follows a Zimbabwean white farmer who files an international lawsuit against Robert Mugabe’s violent land reform program. It’s part of our partnership with The Economist magazine that showcases the art of filmmaking.

Watch the full excerpt here.

Filmmakers Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson both share a passion for Africa and have spent much of their careers also working on stories across the continent. Bailey has over ten years experience as a director in television, including working for the BBC. Andrew is a BAFTA and RTS nominated cameraman who has over 12 years experience filming all over the world for C4, BBC, National Geographic and Discovery.

In their documentary, Mugabe and the White African, Bailey and Thompson follow the story of Mike Campbell and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth, who attempt to save their farm and challenge President Robert Mugabe in international court on the basis of racial discrimination and violations of basic human rights. In making the documentary, Bailey and Thompson had to shoot most of the film covertly inside Zimbabwe. Had they been discovered, particularly covering such a contentious issue, they are certain they would have been imprisoned.

The filmmakers and producers sent us this about the making of “Mugabe and the White African:”

This film took almost two years to complete as the legal case became strung out and nearly grounded. Andrew’s repeated, courageous, clandestine visits to Zimbabwe with the crew, along with Lucy’s highly impressive persuasion of the SADC court to allow her and Andrew to film the case, combined with the family’s stoic and calm resistance to their daily intimidation and the violent attacks on them, allowed a rich and unusual story to unfold. In the editing room we whittled down the large amount of material to allow audiences to have a clear sense of both: what it was like for this family to live in such a troubled country; and the complex path they faced to a judgement in the international court room — a judgement that resulted in the black African judges finding in favour of Ben and Mike, only for the ruling to be contemptuously rejected by Mugabe.

The completed film soon attracted extensive interest not just from general audiences, but also from the world’s legal, human rights and diplomatic communities. People of all creeds, races and persuasions have engaged in a wider debate on Zimbabwe and the way Mugabe has treated both his black and white population. Ben Freeth’s tireless efforts to continue to push for a legal outcome were recognised by the award of an OBE (Order of the British Empire), which he received from Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace in the summer of 2010.

Mike Campbell died earlier this year. He never completely recovered from the torture he received at the hands of one of Mugabe’s ZANU PF gangs — although his strong and wry spirit continued to shine. While effective international law and the enforcement of judgments is not nearly as common as it should be, the case that Mike Campbell and Ben Freeth brought, which is at the heart of this film, will resonate for many years to come.

In an interview with Hari Sreenivasan, Ben Freeth tells the NewsHour that despite the favorable ruling in their case, he and all Zimbabweans still continue to struggle with Mugabe’s governance in Zimbabwe.



Our partners at POV have an interactive timeline (below) where you can learn more about Zimbabwe and President Mugabe’s history. “Mugabe and the White African” will air on POV on July 26. Check your local listings.

Find more from The Economist Film Project Series.

*Follow Hari and the film Mugabe And The White African on Twitter. Photo by Robin Hammond*