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'Mugabe and the White African' in Context

Mount Carmel Farm

After repayment of a 24-year loan, the 3,000-acre Mount Carmel farm was legally transferred to Mike Campbell's company. Difficulties for the Campbells began in November 1997, when the property was listed for acquisition in Zimbabwe's land reform program, under which land is often allocated to senior political associates, the elite and wealthy friends of Robert Mugabe and his government.

Mike Campbell was born on a farm in Klerksdorp, South Africa, into a family that had farmed in Africa since 1713. In the early 1970s, Mike served as a captain in the South African army and fought in the Rhodesian Bush War.

In 1974, Campbell moved to Mount Carmel farm in the Chegutu district of Zimbabwe. He bought the 3,000-acre plot and began stocking it with game and planting it with corn and mangoes. Eventually, he opened a safari lodge that became a popular tourist destination. Until three years ago, the farm boasted 45 giraffes, 300 impala, 150 wildebeest and 50 eland, as well as waterbuck, warthogs, zebras and game birds. By the end of the 1990s, Mount Carmel farm was the largest mango producer in Zimbabwe, generating much-needed export earnings for the country. More than 500 people lived on the farm, including workers and their spouses and children. After a 24-year loan on the farm had been repaid, the farm was legally transferred into the family's company name upon receipt of a "certificate of no interest" from the Mugabe government, which had the first purchase option on any sale.

Land Reform and Court Battle

The difficulties for Campbell and the 500 people living on Mount Carmel farm began in November 1997, when the property was listed for acquisition as part of the government's land reform program. The acquisition was part of Mugabe's inequitable land redistribution, under which land is often allocated to senior political associates, the elite and wealthy friends of Mugabe and his government. The man planning to move onto Campbell's farm is one of the country's former most visible political leaders, Nathan Shamuyarira, previously the spokesman for Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party.

In 2000, armed gangs of supposedly landless former independence fighters — urged on by Mugabe, who had "cancelled" all title deeds and declared that all land belonged to the government — began invading white-owned farms. After the farm invasions began, Campbell, his family, their workers and other farmers in the district became the target of unrelenting state-sponsored violence and intimidation. The safari lodge was burned down, wildlife slaughtered and cattle rustled. After getting no recourse in the Zimbabwean courts, Campbell took his case to the SADC tribunal in October 2007, and in March of the following year an additional 77 white commercial farmers joined the case as interveners.

Just two days after the July 2008 Zimbabwean presidential run-off election, Mike Campbell, his wife and his son-in-law Ben Freeth were abducted by militia and taken to a remote camp, where they were tortured for nine hours. Campbell sustained severe head injuries, broken ribs and damage to his lower limbs caused by "falanga" (a method of torture that involves beating the soles of the feet). His wife, Angela, was forced to sign an agreement that the family would not continue its court battle. All three were dumped on the roadside; once discovered there, they were rushed to the hospital.

Campbell's injuries prevented him from attending the SADC tribunal's final hearing. However, Freeth, despite being wheelchair-bound and having sustained a fractured skull, was able to represent the Campbell case. During this hearing, the international court of the SADC ruled that the land reform program was discriminatory and was not being conducted according to the rule of law. Therefore, it granted Campbell and the other dispossessed white farmers the return of their property. However, the Harare government refused to honor that ruling, and Campbell and his family continued to be victimized. A year later, a government-sponsored militia burned the Campbell and Freeth homesteads to the ground.

Campbell, continuing to seek justice, launched another legal action in early 2011. This case sought to compel SADC heads of state, including President Mugabe, to restore the functions of the tribunal, which had been suspended following the ruling in favor of the white farmers. Unfortunately, Campbell never recovered from the injuries he sustained from the brutal beating, and he died on April 6, 2011 at the age of 79. Campbell is survived by his wife, Angela, their son, Bruce, two daughters, Cathy and Laura, and five grandchildren with a sixth grandchild to be born next month.

Photo Caption: A worker on the Campbell farm watches helplessly as farm buildings burn;   Credit: Arturi Films Limited

» Herbstein, Denis. "Mike Campbell Obituary." The Guardian, April 24, 2011.
» "Mike Campbell." The Telegraph, April 8, 2011
» Mugabe and the White African

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