Mike Campbell v. Zimbabwe

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The Land Appointment Act denies land ownership to Africans and simultaneously forces Africans to work the land.

View an interactive timeline of Zimbabwe's history and Robert Mugabe's rule »

August 1974

White Africans Mike Campbell and Angela Campbell purchase the 3,000-acre Mount Carmel farm in the Chegutu district of Zimbabwe, west of the capital, Harare. They will spend the next 20 years paying back the loan on the property.

Photo credit: Robin Hammond


The British-brokered Lancaster House Agreement marks the end of colonialism in Zimbabwe but protects white farms from acquisition for 10 years following independence.


The government implements the Land Acquisition Act. This act strengthens the power of the government to acquire land for resettlement. The government is required to provide "fair" compensation for the land it acquires.


Difficulties for Mike Campbell and the 500 people living on Mount Carmel farm begin in November 1997, when the property is listed for acquisition as part of the government's land reform program. Robert Mugabe, president of Zimbabwe, announces that he will seize an additional 1,500 farms and says the British should pay for them. The British respond that the cost of land reform is not their responsibility.


After Zimbabwe's government issues a "certificate of no interest," Mike Campbell transfers ownership of the Mount Carmel farm to his company.

Photo credit: Robin Hammond


Invasions begin on the Mount Carmel farm. The government and squatters seize land owned by other white farmers, claiming that the land was originally stolen by white settlers. Large portions of the reclaimed land are given to inexperienced, novice farmers, leading to what some call an "economic freefall." In March, a high court judge rules that now-rampant invasions of white farms by black veterans of the Rhodesian Bush War are illegal.

September 2004

Zimbabwe's government offers the Mount Carmel farm to Nathan Shamuyarira, a spokesman for ZANU-PF (Robert Mugabe's party) and former minister of information. Mistakes in the acquisition order give Mike Campbell a reprieve, but vandalism on the farm escalates.

September 14, 2005

Robert Mugabe's government adds Amendment 17 to Zimbabwe's constitution, allowing the state to seize agricultural land after it has been "gazetted" (meaning a notice of the seizure has been published in a newspaper). The amendment also prohibits legal challenges to the acquisitions.

View Zimbabwe's amended constitution (PDF) »

May 15, 2006

Mike Campbell challenges Amendment 17 in the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe. Its judges are beneficiaries of land redistribution.

View a list of beneficiaries of Chegutu district farms on DocumentCloud »

December 2006

The Gazetted Land Act passes, creating a maximum two-year jail term for farmers who do not vacate their land.

April 2007

The SADC (Southern African Development Community) establishes a tribunal as the highest court of its member nations. The tribunal aims to uphold the SADC treaty and protect human rights, non-discrimination and the rule of law.

View the SADC treaty »

October 1, 2007

The Zimbabwean government begins prosecuting Mike Campbell for what Campbell Lead Counsel Jeremy Gauntlett calls "the unique offense of living in his own house and farming his own land to which he holds the title deeds."

October 11, 2007

After exhausting other legal challenges, Mike Campbell files a case with the SADC tribunal.

November-December 2007

The SADC tribunal case is delayed for reasons that include a faulty fax machine in Robert Mugabe's office.

December 13, 2007

The SADC tribunal issues an interim order advising Zimbabwe's government to take no action toward evicting farmers such as Campbell.

View the SADC tribunal's 2007 interim order on DocumentCloud »

January 22, 2008

The Supreme Court of Zimbabwe dismisses Campbell's 2006 challenge to Amendment 17.

March 2008

Seventy-seven white farmers join Campbell's SADC tribunal case.

May-June 2008

The government of Zimbabwe delays the SADC tribunal case, citing a lack of resources and inability to process documents fast enough.

Examine the SADC tribunal application submitted by Campbell's lawyers on DocumentCloud »

June 29, 2008

Two days after a contentious run-off election that threatened Robert Mugabe's rule, Mike Campbell, Angela Campbell and their son-in-law Ben Freeth are abducted and beaten. They are forced to sign an agreement that ensures a withdrawal from the SADC tribunal case.

July 16-18, 2008

After attempts to the delay the SADC tribunal case fail, lawyers for the government of Zimbabwe abandon the proceedings. The tribunal concludes that the government of Zimbabwe has not complied with its interim order from December 2007.

November 28, 2008

The SADC tribunal rules in favor of Campbell, calling the land reform program discriminatory and against the rule of law. It orders the Zimbabwean government to protect Mount Carmel and other farms from redistribution. Mugabe disregards the ruling and prosecutions of white farmers continue. Approximately 60,000 farm workers are forced to seek new shelter.

View the 2008 SADC tribunal decision on DocumentCloud »

December 23, 2008

Mike Campbell registers for a hearing in Zimbabwe's high court, but his application is rejected.

February 28, 2009

Robert Mugabe openly rejects the SADC tribunal's judgment and authority. At an 85th birthday rally, he is quoted saying, "Land distribution will continue. It will not stop. The few remaining white farmers should quickly vacate their farms as they have no place there. ... Our land issues are not subject to the SADC tribunal."

April 3, 2009

Lovemore Madangonda (a.k.a. "Landmine") invades Mount Carmel. The farm's workers are beaten.

April 5, 2009

The Campbells are evicted.

April 17-30, 2009

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's deputy and other ministers assemble at Mount Carmel farm to allow work to continue, but the workers are thwarted by the invaders. Other high court rulings fail to dislodge the squatters.

June 5, 2009

The SADC tribunal holds Zimbabwe's government in contempt for a second time and awards a payment to the farmers. No payment is received.

View the SADC tribunal application submitted by Campbell's lawyers on DocumentCloud »
View the 2009 SADC Tribunal ruling on DocumentCloud »

August-September 2009

Mike Campbell's home is burned, along with the homes of Ben Freeth and other farm workers.

July 16, 2010

The SADC tribunal finds Zimbabwe's government in contempt for a third time.

View the 2010 SADC tribunal decision on DocumentCloud »

August 2010

The SADC Summit, a meeting of leaders from member nations, seeks to dissolves the SADC tribunal and effectively suspends it by failing to reappoint judges.

Read a summary of the SADC Summit »

April 6, 2011

Mike Campbell, who has never recovered from the 2008 beating, passes away in his home.

Read a statement on Campbell's death »

May 20, 2011

The SADC Summit dissolves the SADC tribunal.

Read a statement from SADC Tribunal Watch decrying the tribunal's dissolution on DocumentCloud »


Explore documents related to Mike Campbell's case against Robert Mugabe and the government of Zimbabwe:

SADC tribunal rulings appear here courtesy of the South African Legal Information Institute (SAFLII).