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Farmer digs deep to save livelihood

Since Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe initiated his policy of "land reform", 4,000 white farmers and their families have been violently evicted from their homes and had their land confiscated by the government.

In theory, the land is then redistributed among the poor black majority, the peasants who for generations were treated by their white masters as second-class citizens in their own country. In practice, it usually ends up in the hands of Mugabe's flunkies: the judges, cops, military men and Zanu PF politicians who help prop up his corrupt and anti-democratic regime, as well as their idle sons and daughters. They invariably asset-strip the farms, before letting them fall into disuse.

Andrew Thompson and Lucy Bailey's extraordinarily powerful documentary film Mugabe and the White African told the astonishing story of 75-year-old Mike Campbell, who's courageously resisting Mugabe's bullying.

In 2007, Mike and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth, took Mugabe and his government to an international court. As a result, the Campbells and everyone on their farm lives in a constant state of fear of reprisals.

The case, which was heard in Namibia, where Mike was represented by a legal team consisting of Zimbabwean and British lawyers, dragged on for two years through numerous, frustrating postponements and adjournments caused by the delaying tactics of Mugabe's side.

Campbell is no racist; no ugly white supremacist hangover clinging desperately onto the injustices of the old days. He might be a well-off farmer, but he's also a decent, fair man with strong Christian beliefs who treats the 500 black people, mostly families, who live and work on his Mount Carmel Farm as equals.

"We love these guys," he told the film-makers. "They're loyal to us and we give them a fair deal. If we lose the farm, they lose their land as well." As the film showed, the feeling is clearly mutual.

Many of these people have been with Mike since he bought the farm in 1974, using a massive bank loan it took him 20 years to pay off. In some cases, their children and grandchildren were born there. Mount Carmel is their home as much as the Campbells'.

Mugabe's thugs have threatened, abducted and beaten up some of the farm workers in an effort to drive them away. But they've stood by Mike. Mike has also been beaten up, and his entire family is subject to a continuous campaign of threats and intimidation.

In one incredible scene, filmed covertly, the arrogant, aggressive son of a Zanu PF minister turned up, accompanied by some heavies, and demanded the return of "my land".

It was a chilling moment, but there was worse to come. Two weeks before the final court hearing, Mike, Ben and Mike's wife Angela were abducted by a gang of Mugabe's thugs, who beat them to within an inch of their lives.

The results were horrific. Their faces were bruised and swollen like grotesque balloons. Angela had had a red-hot implement forced down her throat. Mike's fingers were broken and his hearing permanently impaired. Ben suffered a massive skull fracture, which required surgery to remove a blood clot pressing on his brain.

Nonetheless, 13 days later, Ben, his head swaddled in bandages, was in court for the hearing. Mugabe's legal team simply walked out halfway through, "on the instructions of our government".

The judges released their verdict four months later: the Campbells had won their case on every count, effectively rendering Mugabe's entire land reform policy illegal.

But there was no Hollywood ending. Late last year, while the Campbells were at church, Mount Carmel was burned to the ground. Everything was destroyed. Though Mike is deaf and desperately frail, he and Ben continue to fight their legal battle. A film that made the heart ache and the blood boil.


Mugabe and the White African *****