The US premier of award-winning documentary, Mugabe and the White African airs tonight at 10 p.m. EST on PBS’s acclaimed Point of View series.
Filmed over a twelve-month period, Mugabe and the White African follows the story of white Zimbabwean farmer Mike Campbell, his wife, Angela, their daughter, Laura, and son-in-law Ben Freeth who successfully fought the compulsory Land Reform Programme implemented by Zimbabwean dictator, Robert Mugabe at the turn of this century. The documentary captures many pivotal moments throughout Campbell’s journey including the challenges he faced in trying to bring the case within the purview of Zimbabwe’s domestic court system, his journey to the Southern African Development Community Tribunal, and the family’s horrific kidnapping and torture in 2008, which ultimately led to Mike Campbell’s death this past April.
Mike Campbell’s story and a brief overview of land reform in Zimbabwe
The Campbell family settled in Zimbabwe over three hundred years ago. Farmers for centuries, Mike Campbell continued with the family business when, in 1980, he purchased Mount Carmel, a three thousand acre farm located approximately eighty miles outside of Harare. In addition to employing five hundred people, mostly black Zimbabweans, Mount Carmel served as an environmental conservation site, as Campbell strove to preserve and protect African wildlife.
On April 18, 1980, around the same time Mike Campbell bought Mount Carmel farm, the British government granted independence to Zimbabwe after the Rhodesian Bush War, a violent and long-fought revolution which lasted from 1964 to 1979. In Zimbabwe’s first general elections, the public elected Robert Mugabe as Prime Minister, and later President, of Zimbabwe. Mugabe was a black liberation hero and leader of Zimbabwe’s African National Union, which was victorious in the revolution against white minority rule.
Immediately following his inauguration, Mugabe worked to help reconcile peace between warring political movements, which took the lives of thousands. After years of fighting, the opposing groups finally reached a settlement and Mugabe was free to turn his attention to a series of reforms aimed at bringing equity and balance to black Zimbabweans who were disenfranchised under colonial rule.
In 2000, Mugabe began an aggressive, fast track land redistribution program aimed at removing white Africans from land they acquired during the country’s colonization. The goal of the program was to “right the wrongs” of Zimbabwe’s colonial rule by redistributing farming lands that had been previously been owned overwhelmingly by white commercial farmers. At this time, Zimbabwe had a population of approximately twelve million. Although black Zimbabweans made up ninety-seven percent of the population, white Zimbabweans owned nearly all of the viable farming land. In fact, in 2000, “there were approximately 4800 large scale commercial farms located on eleven million hectares of land. Of these commercial farms, 4500 were white-owned. In contrast, one million black families had been confined to farming in exclusively black communal areas covering sixteen million hectares. Only a small percentage of this communal land, however, was arable enough to farm.” (See Jonathan Shirley, The Role of International Human Rights and the Law of Diplomatic Protection in Resolving Zimbabwe’s Land Crisis, citing Thomas Mitchell, The Land Crisis in Zimbabwe: Getting Beyond the Myopic Focus upon Black & White, 11 Ind. Int’l & Comp. L. Rev., 2001)
Mugabe’s Land Reform Programme was thus born. White commercial farmers’ lands were compulsorily reacquired by the government and redistributed to black Zimbabwean farmers. Of course, on its face, the Land Reform Programme appeared to be equitable and justified given Zimbabwe’s harsh colonial history. However, the implementation of the Programme became increasingly controversial, especially amidst reports of lands being violently seized by veterans of Mugabe’s revolution, who then redistributed the land not to disenfranchised Zimbabweans but either to themselves or those loyal to the Mugabe regime. Moreover, the Zimbabwean legislature went a step further in 2005 by enacting Constitutional Amendment 17, which denied white farmers access to domestic courts by 1.) stripping the courts’ jurisdiction to hear cases involving the acquisition of agricultural lands and 2.) promulgating that questions related to the proper manner of land acquisition were no longer those for the judiciary.
On July 22, 2001, the Zimbabwean government first attempted to seize Mount Carmel farm, but the High Court of Zimbabwe denied the government’s acquisition attempt. Soon thereafter, war veterans invaded the property. In 2006, the Zimbabwean government attempted to transfer ownership of the entire farm to former government minister Nathan Shamuyarira, and though Campbell opposed the action by filing suit, recourse in Zimbabwe’s domestic courts was impossible, as land acquisition was no longer a judicial question as per the Constitutional Amendment 17. (See Memory Dube and Rob Midgley, Land Reform in Zimbabwe, Chapter 12)
Mike Campbell (Pvt) Ltd et al v. Republic of Zimbabwe
On October 11, 2007, while awaiting judgment from the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe on the same issue, Mike Campbell filed an application with the Southern African Development Community Tribunal (SADC) to challenge the Zimbabwean government’s compulsory acquisition of the Mount Carmel agricultural lands under Zimbabwe’s Land Reform Programme. It was not long until 77 other white farmers joined in the claim, asserting that the legislative aim of the Programme was to racial discriminate against and target white Zimbabwean farmers. Specifically the Applicants challenged Amendment 17 of the Zimbabwean Constitution, alleging that it violated Article 6(2) of the Treaty of the Southern African Development Community, which states, “SADC and Member States shall not discriminate against any person on grounds of gender, religion, political views, race, ethnic origin, culture or disability.” (Established under Article 9 of the SADC Treaty, the SADC serves as a compliment of the African Union and focuses on promoting sustainable and equitable economic growth and socioeconomic development while the SADC Tribunal hears related disputes.)
Of course, since the case with the SADC Tribunal was filed before the Zimbabwe Supreme Court rendered a verdict, the Republic of Zimbabwe claimed that the SADC Tribunal did not have jurisdiction to hear the case, as the Applicants had not “exhausted all available remedies or were unable to proceed under the domestic jurisdiction.” The SADC, however, rejected this argument and found that the Applicants were unable to proceed in Zimbabwe’s domestic courts since Constitutional Amendment 17 clearly “obliterated” the jurisdiction of the domestic courts to hear cases involving the acquisition of agricultural lands. Specifically, the SADC Tribunal stated,
“where the municipal law does not offer any remedy or the remedy that is offered is ineffective, the individual is not required to exhaust the local remedies. Further, where, as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights states, ‘…it is obvious … that the procedure of achieving the remedies would have been unduly prolonged”, the individual is not expected to exhaust local remedies. These are circumstances that make the requirement of exhaustion of local remedies meaningless, in which case the individual can lodge a case with the international tribunal…”
The Tribunal went on to remind the Respondents that,
“[i]t will be recalled that the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe delivered its judgment dismissing the Applicants’ claims in their entirety, saying, among other things, that the question of what protection an individual should be afforded in the Constitution in the use and enjoyment of private property, is a question of a political and legislative character, and that as to what property should be acquired and in what manner is not a judicial question…[B]y the clear and unambiguous language of the Constitution, the Legislature, in the proper exercise of its powers, had lawfully ousted the jurisdiction of the courts of law from any of the cases in which a challenge to the acquisition of agricultural land may be sought. The Court further stated that the Legislature had unquestionably enacted that such an acquisition shall not be challenged in any court of law. The Supreme Court, therefore, concluded that there cannot be any clearer language by which the jurisdiction of the courts has been ousted.” (Opinion, Mike Campbell (Pvt) Ltd et al v. Republic of Zimbabwe, SADC (T) Case No. 2/2007)
After reaching the decision that they also had jurisdiction to decide the overarching issue of the validity of Zimbabwe’s Land Reform Programme, the SADC Tribunal held that while the Programme itself “cannot be attributed to racism but circumstances brought about by colonial history,” and thus was not in violation of Article 6(2), the effects of Constitutional Amendment 17 had “an unjustifiable and disproportionate impact upon a group of individuals distinguished by race.” After citing the United Nations Charter, Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and Article 2 of both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights as well as answering the question, “what is racial discrimination,” the SADC Tribunal ultimately found that the implementation of Constitutional Amendment 17 discriminated against the Applicants on the basis of race and thereby violated its obligation under Article 6 (2) of the Treaty. (Id.)
The kidnapping and torture of Mike Campbell
While the SADC Tribunal’s ruling was a monumental win for Mike Campbell and the 77 other farmers whose property had been forcibly seized, the conclusion of the Campbell family’s story has been tragic nonetheless.
In 2008, Mugabe loyalists stormed the Campbell’s home, captured the then 74 year-old Campbell, his wife, Angela, and their son-in-law, Ben Freeth. The three endured torture for nine hours, which included whippings to the back and feet, beatings to the face and body, proddings to the mouth and lips with burning sticks, and threats of dismemberment and death. Freeth sustained a five inch skull fracture and Campbell was beaten beyond recognition. Those that took them forced them to sign a document stating that they would drop their case against the Mugabe regime. (See They Beat Him, But Not Into Submission. Los Angeles Times, Aug. 7, 2008.)
Of course, the harassment did not stop there. In 2009, Campbell and his wife were again “driven from their home and the family’s ancient pet horse, Ginger, who lived in the garden, ran away into the bush. Months later, the house was burned to the ground.” (See Tough Zimbabwe farm family survives another blow. Los Angeles Times, Sept. 7 2009)
The nine hours of torture ultimately cost Campbell his life, as he died from complications of the beatings this past April. According to his obituary in the Los Angeles Times, following the beating, Campbell “found he couldn’t solve easy sums, like calculating how much fertilizer to put on a mango tree. His family said he never recovered.” (See Mike Campbell dies at 78; white Zimbabwean challenged seizure of lands. Los Angeles Times, Apr. 8, 2011)
Today, as stated on Ben Freeth’s fundraising page, Campbell’s remaining family members continue to be harassed. Their homes have all been destroyed and their crops stolen.
Mugabe and the White African premiers on PBS tonight, July 26, 2011 at 10 p.m. EST.
Check your local PBS listings for complete details, as local viewing dates and times may differ.
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