Skip to content

   

Chat with Filmmakers and Farmer Ben Freeth



POV: This live chat about Mugabe and the White African will begin at 12:30 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday (July 27, 2011). If you're here early, you can enter your questions or comments now, and we'll queue them up for our guests, co-directors Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson and Zimbabwean farmer Ben Freeth.

POV: We'll be starting the chat in about 30 minutes. If you have questions for co-directors Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson or Zimbabwean farmer Ben Freeth from the film Mugabe and the White African, get them in early!

POV: We're just about to get started. We'll be moderating your questions and comments, so they won't appear immediately, but we will be able to see them all and we will get to as many as we can!

POV: Welcome to our live chat about Mugabe and the White African with co-directors Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson and Zimbabwean farmer Ben Freeth, the son-in-law of Mike Campbell who we met in the film last night.

POV: Hello Andrew and Lucy and thank you for joining this live chat with POV viewers from the UK.

Lucy Bailey: hi

andrew thompson: hello

POV: And hello, Ben Freeth. Tell us where you are.

Ben Freeth: Hi!

Ben Freeth: I'm in the departure lounge at an airport in London

POV: We're very excited to have you with us.

POV: We can get things started with a few comments before our first question.

POV: Kevin Farkas writes via Facebook (http://facebook.com/povdocs): This film is stunning. Perhaps Mugabe is the inevitable consequence of post-colonialism--the pendulum's far side. However, to me this film reveals how vengeance--no matter how "justified"--will never substitute for justice. Equal protection and the rule of law must prevail, and the international community must support Africans as they work toward meaningful reconciliation, not retribution.

Comment From Rachel Doden
I watched this last night and was so moved. The struggles, the victory, the loss....just heartbreaking and enraging. And yet inspiring.

POV: Our first question is from Dinah for the filmmakers:

Comment From Dinah
Did you have any fears going into the film about how to portray the story, considering the colonial legacy and racial tensions?

andrew thompson: Yes, very much, but our story was the SADC courtcase, and as long as we stayed loyal to that and followed that story we knew we were on the right track. It was never going to be an easy film to make

Ben Freeth: From my perspective, we all just wanted the truth to come out regarding the issues. It's only when the truth comes out that issues can be worked out. From my perspective, the whole racial perspective has been blown out of proportion. We've never had a problem with anyone. We always got along well. The problem came when Mugabe lost the constitutional referendum. He realized he had to beat people into submission, and he realized he had to intimidate the farm workers because they were the swing voters.

POV: Ben, we have a question for you:

Comment From Glen Sutton
Ben your outstanding courage and faith are an inspiration to us all and thank you directors Lucy and Andrew for documenting the truth that may all too well have been buried and lost under the ashes left behind by Mugabe and him murderous thugs in Zimbabwe. My question: Does anyone know why the leaders of SADC and most importantly South Africa do not arrest and prosecute Mugabe for all the atrocities he has committed in your country?

Ben Freeth: It's very distressing for all zimbabweans. A third of our population has had to leave the country, mostly black people, because of the dictatorship. SADC could very quickly sort the problems by arresting various people or by closing our borders and ensuring that pressure is put on the government. Zimbabwe has already been held in contempt of court three times in the tribunal, and yet SADC doesn't expel Zimbabwe. The only reason I can give is a movement of black nationalism, which is just as dangerous as white nationalism. There is sympathy for this black nationalism in SADC. I believe that once Mugabe goes, attitudes will change. Until Mugabe goes, we are stuck in a system that continues to allow these things to happen.

Another huge disappointment is the UN. Most of the countries in the UN, including Zimbabwe, have signed to not allow racial discrimination. There is a committee that can be put on the ground to sort out racial discrimination and it only needs one country in the UN to request this in order to happen. It seems amazing that the UN continues to sit on its hands and do nothing. The largest group of people being affected by this is the farm workers because they are losing jobs. They are left with nothing. I believe if the committee was there, a lot could be done.

POV: This next question is for the filmmakers.

Comment From Claire
Hi all, I really loved the film but I've heard some criticism that the film doesn't provide the proper historical context for the story. I also watched the film with a number of Africans who were upset that the Africans in the film went nameless. How would you respond to them?

andrew thompson: Hi Claire, the film has great black African heroes - Elise, the Namibian attorney, and in my book, the 5 SADC court judges -all black - for making the brave decision to give the case to Mike Campbell. They have now all lost their jobs - the SADC Tribunal has been 'shut down'. Re. historical context... the whole first half of the film is historical context, giving the audience (I think) enough understanding of the country, the SADC Tribunal, and introducing quite a lot of characters to the viewer.

Comment From John F
Has there been any backlash from making this film?

Lucy Bailey: There hasn't been a backlash for us the filmmakers as such, but we have worked hard taking the film to show it to people in a position to make a difference, ie governments, embassies, NGO's, the legal community etc with special screenings in the SADC region and elsewhere. Hopefully this film has brought the Zimbabwe situation to a whole new audience around the world

Ben Freeth: At this stage, we've made the film, and i've written the book which just came out. We haven't experienced any backlash. We don't know what the future holds. My brother-in-law is leasing grazing land from black farmers now because he no longer has his own grazing lands, or ours to graze on. But as far as direct backlash, there hasn't been any.

POV: For Andrew and Lucy:

Comment From Guest
What was the biggest danger you were in?

andrew thompson: Arrest and prison and getting beaten up. It was illegal for us to be in the country in 2008, so we had to smuggle ourselves and kit illegally into the country. The police and Zanu PF militia were never far behind us.

POV: Ben, we have a number of questions about where you have been living since the events of the film, and about the farmers as well.

Comment From char tucker
Have you left Zimbabwe or are you still farming there?

Comment From Kansasboertjie
Ben, you are my HERO! All our sympathies from my family to your's for all your pain and suffering... My question: Do you, after everything you and your family has been through, still reside in Zimbabwe? Best wishes. Lenry & Erika van Zyl

Ben Freeth: After our houses we burned down, we moved into Chegutu which is nearby. Then the man we were staying with got kicked off his farm. We then moved to Harare, and that's where we are living at the moment.

Ben Freeth: after our houses WERE burned down*

Ben Freeth: typo

Ben Freeth: A lot had a really bad time. One had a fractured skull. Another got thrown in a fire. Another one had his feat beaten pretty badly. We helped others escape. Some of them are still on the farm but their water and electric has been cut off. They've got nowhere else to live. They keep being told they can't stay on the farm, but they have nowhere else to go and we try to keep in touch with them.

Comment From Guest
What do you say to people who say that white people got the land through force and therefore deserve to be ejected?

Lucy Bailey: Mike Campbell didn't get his land through force, he purchased it on the open market and it was offered to the government at Independence - the government didn't want it. No white farmers alive today got their land through force- all white owned land had to be offered to the government at independence.

Ben Freeth: When we bought the farm, the system in place was there had to be certificates issued by the government. In 1999, when there was a transfer on our land, we had to get the government to say they didn't want the farm.

Ben Freeth: When independence happened in 1980, he said he wanted white people to stay in the country and help build it. He wanted to be friends.

Ben Freeth: The white community felt that they were really going to play a part in the future of Zimbabwe.

Ben Freeth: 80% of the farms were bought and sold between independence and 2000

Ben Freeth: I believe there can't be any excuse for the government not having taken up offers.

Ben Freeth: Ownership has been taken away from us but it hasn't been given to anyone else. If the person on the land doesn't want to support his dictatorship, he gets kicked off. The entire system collapses and people go hungry.

Ben Freeth: We used to be the breadbasket of Africa, and now the US is donating food to us.

Ben Freeth: Mugabe is not helping white people, black people, or anyone he is putting on the land.

Comment From Theresa
I'm curious if you're getting different reactions from an American audience based on our history of slavery, compared with countries that don't have the same past.

andrew thompson: Hi Theresa, Yes. I thought the American audience would like this film for all things actually very American - people standing up for democracy, the rule of law and human rights. The 'race' reaction is very surprising...I thought we had all gotten over this long ago. At the end of the day, this film tells story about a white African, but this film is for the benefit of all Zimbabweans black and white - both have suffered enormously under Mugabe's regime.

Comment From Bartholomew
How has food production in Zimbabwe suffered as a result of farms being stolen from landowners/farmers?

Ben Freeth: At the moment we are in the middle of the wheat season. When you look down from the sky in an airplane all you see are dams for the irrigation. We used to produce tons of wheat. 10 years ago we had about 30,000 tons of wheat/. We produced 11,000 tons and this year we will be at 10,000 tons. Our agricultural production has declined dramatically, especially in wheat which was our staple as the breadbasket. Almost all crop harvesting has dramatically decreased. When you drive around the commercial farms now, there are no crops. In the past, we did show the world that Africa could be a productive place, but unfortunately that is no longer the case.

POV: To our late additions, welcome! We're talking with Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson, co-directors of Mugabe and the White African, and Ben Freeth, who we met in the film. We're seeing all of your questions and comments and we'll get to as many as we can in the time we have left with our guests.

Comment From Guest
Why do Mugabe's atrocities get so little mention in the mainstream press?

Lucy Bailey: Mugabe's atrocities get little mention because quite simply there isn't a free open press in the country, so no-one knows what is really going on particularly in the rural areas. We had to take extreme risks and smuggled our equipment in to make this film….

POV: We've got a comment before our next question:

Comment From Laura Larkins
I have been involved in our own political land reapportionment for four years in Englewood, Colorado. We're in the Co. Court of Appeals. I'm thankful this film clearly shows the effects of those in power against rightful landowners. ... under the guise of the "helping the poor majority" -- that's the power of Home Rule in Colorado, coupled with the police power to punish people who own and use their private land even prior to zoning! Similarities of story line…amazing.

Comment From R. & M. Lux
This question is for Mr. Freeth. Is something similar beginning to happen in South Africa now? We were there for 6 months in 2008. We met a displaced Zimbabwean farmer in the Thousand Hills area near Durban, who'd re-settled after losing his (father's, if not grandfather's) farm in Zimbabwe, He felt very pessimistic about South Africa, that white farmers are suffering the loss of much farm equipment to theft, are sometimes the victims of violent crime and of an atmosphere of hatred. And that the courts have often given land to claimants based on flimsy historical tribal claims and thus many white farmers have given up. There is so much that is good about So. Africa, but we fear the gov't is moving in the direction of a similar land re-distribution. What do you think?

Comment From Guest
Why has land reform turned out so differently in South Africa?

andrew thompson: The difference is Mugabe is a dictator - he has held power for 30 years - that costs a lot in political leverage and money. The stolen farms have paid off the debt to his war vets and political cronies to maintain that grip on power. This is not the same in SA where there is a functioning democracy. Having said that , many thousands of white farmers have been murdered in SA, which dwarfs the dozen or so actually killed in Zimbabwe!

Ben Freeth: South Africa is a ticking time bomb and we don't know if its going to go off or not. When you look from 1994 to now, there have been one murder every 36 hours of a white farmer on commercial farm in South Africa. There is a willing seller willing buyer basis for redistribution happening at the moment. Unfortunately at this stage, it is not working very well. The farms they are resettling are not very productive. But no one has got a problem with a land reform program that is being done by the rule of law. There is no state militia coming in to evict the farmer in a lawless way. We just have to wait to see how things will pan out. Hopefully they will learn from what has happened in Zimbabwe. I pray it doesn't turn out the same way as in Zimbabwe.

POV: We have a few more comments coming in from our Facebook page (http://facebook.com/povdocs)

POV: Carole Buckner writes via Facebook: Inspiring and courageous example of true faith and how God-loving people act in an evil world run by evil men and governments.

POV: Ted Marcus writes via Facebook: WOW!!!!! That's summing up everything I'm thinking and feeling. This was one of the best docs I've ever seen. What an extraordinary story and family and the film was so well put together. WOW!!!!

POV: Here's our next question:

Comment From Guest
What will it take to get Mugabe out of power?

andrew thompson: His death.

Ben Freeth: We would like for it to happen through free and fair elections.

Ben Freeth: But that is proving difficult.

Ben Freeth: If we can have a fair election with peacekeepers on the ground, and there is a smooth and bloodless transfer of power, then we can end the dictatorship. But as long as the world stands by, I'm afraid we are going to stay with dictatorship.

Lucy Bailey: In reference to several questions raised- as the filmmakers we've always felt this film was much more about the big issues of human rights, the rule of law, and democracy... for everyone, no matter what colour their skin.....it's strange that so much comment from the US audience is about just the race issue- the SADC tribunal was set up for all Africans, and was there to benefit many millions of Africans….

POV: We have just a few minutes left, so get your last questions and comments in!

Comment From Pamela Willms
If these are non farmers are taking over the land and it is no longer being used as a farm, how did this effect the supply of local farm food for the people? In addition to people losing a way to make a living that formerly worked the farms.

andrew thompson: Hi Pamela, the country went from being a net exporter of food to net importer - the bread basket of Africa to the basket case of Africa! Millions have died, many millions more have fled the country, and many live in acute poverty and starvation. Zimbabwe now has the lowest life expectancy in the world - 32 years.... all as a direct result of the 'Land Reform Program'.

Comment From Guest
I was intrigued by the film and you all have a lot of courage. Still can you let me know if the intent was to give the land back to the poor rather than rich politicians would you have opposed a peaceful giveback of the land?

andrew thompson: Hi, it's Andy. Yes. The original plan was for the Zim. Government to give the land back to the black poor majority. The British Government supported this and it was part of the Lancaster House Agreement between the two countries that this would happen. The Brits pulled out when it became clear that this wasn't happening…

POV: Ben Freeth has to catch his flight, but we have a last question for him about his father in law, Mike Campbell, who was the main subject of the documentary.

Comment From Curt
Do you mind speaking to the tragedy around Mike Campbell? I'm so sorry for your loss and for all of us who have lost a courageous, honorable, and inspiring man.

Comment From Kansasboertjie
@ Ben: I am very sorry for the loss of your father in law. We pray the Lord keeps his protective hand over your family and that this documentary and your book open countless doors for you and their future.

Ben Freeth: Thank you very much. It's very appreciated when people care about what has happened in a far away place. We very much appreciate it.

Ben Freeth: I hope people pray for law and order to return to Zimbabwe and for poverty to be eradicated. No one wants to see impoverished people and rule of law can help deter that. Whatever people can do to help reinstate rule of law in Zimbabwe, we would very much appreciate that.

POV: This will have to be our last question:

Comment From Miles
How come the story does not get the perspective from the workers on the farm. We see them smiling but not giving their account or feelings..although I am sure they would like to have jobs

andrew thompson: Hi Miles, only two of the 200 workers on the farm were prepared to talk on camera - they perceived the risks to great. They were probably right - three people seen in the film have already been murdered! The two we did interview didn't make it into the finished cut because simply their interviews didn't work and there was better material we decided to include instead. That's the harsh reality of the edit…

POV: We'll have to end our chat here. Thank you all for joining us today.

POV: Ben Freeth has to catch his flight, so we'll have to say goodbye to him now. Thank you for joining us Ben!

Ben Freeth: Bye! It's been great answering questions!

POV: And goodbye to Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson. Thank you for sharing this story with us.

Lucy Bailey: Thanks for watching and taking an interest in all the issues the film throws up.

andrew thompson: That's it. Thanks for the questions... rushing to put the kid's to bed! Do spread the word about the film - it really can save lives if people know what is really happening inside Zimbabwe!

POV: If we didn't get a chance to ask your question or post your comment, please ask again at POV's companion site for Mugabe and the White African at http://www.pbs.org/pov/mugabe/ and on POV's Facebook page at http://facebook.com/povdocs.

POV: Follow POV on Twitter at http://twitter.com/povdocs to find out about our next filmmaker chats.

POV: Bye!

POV: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-nqDTxQVSlk





Talk About This

Share This

We wanted to make a film about a big issue like the land reform program policy in Zimbabwe, but in a very intimate and personal way. ”

— Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson, Co-directors

Upcoming Films