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Laura Freeth at her embroidery workshop (Photo: First Run Features)

Directed by
Lucy Bailey & Andrew Thompson
Produced by
David Pearson & Elizabeth Morgan Hemlock
Released by First Run Features
English and Shona with English subtitles
UK. 94 min. Not Rated

In this extraordinary profile in courage, two flinty farmers stand up for their rights against the ruthless reign of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Directors Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson expose the horrific impact of Mugabe’s disastrous land reform program through the struggles of the white Campbell family. Their Mount Carmel mango farm, 70 miles southwest of the capital city of Harare, supports 500 black workers and their family members. The silver-haired patriarch is Mike Campbell, a 74-year-old grandfather. His daughter Laura and son-in-law Ben Freeth, who frequently narrates, live next door with their young children. Campbell, proud to have paid off all his loans, displays the title deed he acquired after the country’s independence in 1980, certified by the government.

But Mugabe, who has been in power since Rhodesia became Zimbabwe, began forced land seizures of white-owned farms in the late 1990’s. He has made clear he thinks the term “white African” is an oxymoron, with statements such as “The white man is not indigenous to Africa. Africa is for Africans. Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans.” Other white farmers have been cowed into silence or brutally intimidated into leaving. Only a few hundred are left; the white population has fallen from almost 300,000 in the late 1970s to fewer than 20,000 now. Several other shell-shocked white families are interviewed in the wreckage of their homes.

The documentary becomes a suspenseful courtroom drama when Campbell and Freeth fight for the rule of law. They bring a case of human rights violations before a new international African tribunal set up by the 15-member Southern Africa Development Community in Windhoek, Namibia, a court of last resort for the region’s shaky legal systems. Campbell v Republic of Zimbabwe is the first case to be adjudicated. The two farmers have to travel over a thousand miles to be present at each frustrating hearing, with the court tentatively establishing procedures and Mugabe’s uncooperative representatives forcing postponements.

Tensions rise around the country in the course of filming during the internationally disputed 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections. Because of press bans, the filmmakers had to illegally smuggle their equipment in and out of the country when events turned the film into a shocking thriller. (Some of the most alarming footage was captured by Freeth’s covert filming with a small camera.) Mugabe’s florid claim that the land will be redistributed to the poor is violently contradicted before our eyes.

Straight out of central casting for a bad guy, the man Mugabe has selected to take over their property—Nathan Shamuyarira, an official with the ruling ZANU-PF party and Mugabe’s official biographer—drives up in a big expensive car, taunts the family, and spews racist rhetoric against whites. All over the country, these political loyalists have been granted the white farms, displaced the workers, and sown only wastelands. His mockery proves to be not an idle threat when an organized militia surrounds the farm and beats up the security guards hired to protect the workers. The violence escalates more as the entire Campbell clan, old and young, literally put their lives on the line to pursue their day in court. Very bloodied but unbowed, they demand justice and hold out for even a pyrrhic victory.

It’s a Hollywood cliché to open the world’s eyes to African crises through the moral awakening of a white outsider. Instead, here are white Africans committed to their non-racial homeland by upholding the admonition attributed to Edmund Burke: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.Mugabe and the White African starkly bears passionate and brave witness to this good vs. evil fight. It’s also unforgettably wrenching that might may continue to make right. Nora Lee Mandel
July 23, 2010



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