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Ben Freeth's Mugabe and the White African (Book Excerpt)

In excerpts from the book Mugabe and the White African, Ben Freeth describes his first meeting with President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe, the vicious beatings he and his family received at the hands of thugs, and a confrontation with the nephew of Mugabe's former minister of information, who has laid claim to the family farm.

I'm Here for My Land


Chapter 15 (Excerpt)

Book cover of Mugabe and the White African by Ben Freeth

Shortly after the SADC Tribunal’s interim relief order of 13 December 2007 granting us protection from eviction, Peter Chamada and some of his thugs drove into our garden in a Toyota Prado in the middle of the night. He made a fire on the lawn not far from our bedroom. Early in the morning I managed to get out and drove to Mike’s house to get Andy’s camera from his safe. It was just after dawn when I returned home, with the sun rising behind me. I walked toward Chamada with the camera in full view on my shoulder. We had the same conversation that had happened a thousand times before on a thousand farms, but this one was recorded and was later included in the 2009 documentary film Mugabe and the White African.

"Good morning. How are you, Mr Chamada?" I enquired.

"How are you?" he replied.

"What are you doing here?" I asked.

"I’m here for my land," he said.

"Your land?"

"Yes, that you’ve taken. It was given to me four years ago by the government."

"No, that’s not correct. We’ve been to the SADC Tribunal, as you know."

"Who is SADC? I am SADC," Chamada asserted.

"SADC has given us full relief," I informed him, "until the main case."

"I am SADC," he repeated, "and SADC has the same feelings that I have."

"SADC has said that you can’t interfere until after the main case is heard," I told him.

"Is that why you refuse to get out of this farm? Tell me."

"This is my home," I said, with feeling.

"It is your home? Well, you’re in the wrong home. Who did you pay? The African or another white fellow?"

"We paid transfer duties to the Zimbabwe government. We bought it on a willing-seller, willing-buyer basis. We didn’t steal it."

"Now that’s unfortunate, because we realized without land we have nothing," Chamada continued.

I put him right: "You have got land. I’ve been to your house in Harare."

"So you’ve been raiding my home also!"

"No, I’ve just driven past it."

"What were you coming for?"

"I was coming to see where you live," I said simply.

"And do what?"

"Well, if you want to steal my house, maybe you can give me your house?" I said with a smile.

"The land belongs to the black peasants. It belongs to the black poor majority," he insisted.

"And Ministers are the black poor majority?" I asked with irony. "Every time you come, you come in a brand new car. This is a brand new Toyota Prado worth about 50,000 US dollars. Last time it was a brand new white twin cab. Before that it was a Jeep Cherokee."

"How about you?" he butted in, pointing at our utility pickup. I should’ve panned the camera round to our ancient Ford Laser, which was over twenty years old, and the beaten-up Mazda pickup, which was twelve years old.

"This has nothing to do with our land!" Chamada insisted.

"If you’ve got all this money, why can’t you buy somewhere?" I asked.

"The land belongs to the black peasants," he continued. "Look at you! You are so greedy!"

"I’m so greedy?" I was incredulous.

"You’re so greedy!"

"You come to steal my house and my farm and yet you say I’m greedy? I paid for everything, Mr Chamada."

"You paid for it? Where? I can’t buy land in the UK," he said, untruthfully. "Everything my father has in London and America is frozen. You’ve taken it. My father isn’t even allowed to go to your country. But you’re still here."

"But you can own land in the UK, Mr Chamada. It’s only government ministers who are subject to targeted sanctions because of what they’ve done to this country."

"No, my friend. You take all the land from us, you starve us, you bring sanctions and you want to cripple us so that you can take us over. This country will never be a colony again," he said forcefully. "I will sleep here until you are out. I mean it. I want you out. We are so tired of you guys. You come here. You grab every nice thing away from us — everything nice."

"Mr Chamada, we only own about 2 percent of the land in Zimbabwe," I said, rather overestimating the amount of land that white people were still living on. "Can’t a white person be a Zimbabwean any more?"

"Not any more."

"Why not?"

"Our president told you, crystal clear. He indicated to you that we don’t want anything to do with you people. We have nothing to do with you!"

"So a white person can’t own a house?" I asked.

"No. We’re not happy with you!"

"We can’t own any land? Can’t do any farming?" I persisted.

"We’re not happy with you white fellows, because we’ve realized your attitude. It’s cantankerous. We want to deal with friendlier people — men from China, men from India. Not you. We don’t want you any more — get it?"

"But we’re Zimbabweans," I said, desperately.

"We don’t want you in particular. Just go!"

"Just because we’re white, hey?" I asked, sadly.

"I’m not talking to you any more. I am happy and I am telling you the land belongs to us. End of story."

We ignored him after that. He positioned himself on the lawn with his fire, not looking very happy at all. One of his men carved "F*** you Ben" into a tree in the garden. They left after a few hours, but we knew they’d be back.

Sure enough, just over a month later on Sunday 21 January 2008, Chamada was back again, drinking beer and demanding to know why we still hadn’t moved out. I told him again that we had relief from SADC. He just laughed at us, then drove off.

The following day our Supreme Court judgment was handed down in Harare. "The application is dismissed," said Justice Mlaba simply. The judgment itself was sixty-one pages long, but we couldn’t get a copy immediately afterwards because it wasn’t finished. The judges had nailed their colours to the mast: the judiciary and the executive were one and the same. It was the final confirmation that there was no longer any independent justice in Zimbabwe. The Supreme Court clearly believed that they couldn’t alter or overturn any decisions made by the president. When the rule of law is overturned, it becomes rule by law and dictatorship is complete.

About two weeks later, Chamada drove back into our garden and demanded that we leave. He kept shouting and sounding the car horn, keeping the children awake until the early hours. We informed the police but they were unclear about how to deal with our SADC Tribunal relief. An election was coming up, which made things more complicated. If the police didn’t uphold the Tribunal ruling, we made it clear they would eventually become accountable. Chamada and his men headed off.

Meanwhile, the local magistrates handed down a judgment stopping Mike’s trial until the High Court appeal had taken place. It was a huge relief. I asked for a written copy of the judgment to show to the police and to the invaders when they came to the farm, but there was nobody to type it up. "I’ll do it," I offered. "The magistrate can sign and stamp it when he has read it and agrees that I’ve typed it up correctly."

I felt it was important that I didn’t strike up any conversation with the magistrate while I was typing. When he’d signed and stamped the typed judgment and given it back to me, I paused at the door on my way out and said, "God bless you."

"This law goes against our conscience," he replied. I knew that apart from a small minority, most people felt the same.

This excerpt from Ben Freeth's book Mugabe and the White African appears with the permission of Lion Hudson. Distributed in the U.S. by Trafalgar Square Publishing from IPG.





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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

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