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POV: Mugabe And The White African

Airs Sunday, July 31, 2011 at 10:30 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Mike Campbell (center right) and Ben Freeth (middle back) with some workers.

“Mugabe And The White African,” much of which was filmed clandestinely, tells an alarming story from one of the world’s most troubled nations. In Zimbabwe, de facto dictator Robert Mugabe has unleashed a “land reform” program aimed at driving whites from the country through violence and intimidation. One proud “white African,” however, has challenged Mugabe with human rights abuses under international law. The courage Michael Campbell and his family display as they defend their farm — in court and on the ground — makes for a film as inspiring as it is harrowing.

Slideshow

View photos from "Mugabe And The White African"

The Campbell family of Zimbabwe — Mike Campbell, his wife, Angela, their daughter, Laura, and their son-in-law, Ben Freeth — may have been white people determined to hold on to their farm, but they were not in the mold of colonialists hanging on to land extorted from blacks. They were among the native-born whites who did not flee in 1980 when Zimbabwe, the former Rhodesia, achieved full independence and black majority rule.

Zimbabwe and Mugabe's Rule

View the interactive timeline of events.

Embracing the new country, Mike and Angela expanded their small farm that same year, buying additional land to create a game preserve, with the full approval of the newly elected government led by independence fighter Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwe African National Union–Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party.

Twenty years later, the Campbells found themselves in the crosshairs of a brutal land redistribution program enacted by the same Robert Mugabe. The Campbells realize they won’t be able to hold on to their farm in a country where the police offer no recourse and court orders halting the invasions are simply ignored.

On April 6, 2011, Mike Campbell, age 79, paid the full price of his courage: He died in Harare, Zimbabwe from the brutal beating he received on June 2, 2008, as recounted in this film.

It is widely recognized that land redistribution is a ticking time bomb in Zimbabwe and neighboring South Africa, where native-born whites continued to own most of the land even after the arrival of black-majority rule. To avoid violence and keep their skilled white populations, many of whom, like the Campbells, identified as white Africans, governments in both nations adopted cautious approaches to land redistribution. In South Africa, such caution has so far succeeded in averting violent civil conflict. But in Zimbabwe, by 2000, something had gone seriously amiss.

“The film is a window on what is happening in Zimbabwe now,” says co-director Andrew Thompson. “It is also fundamentally a story of the bravery and faith of ordinary people confronting corrupt power, and that’s a story that seems to be breaking out all over.”

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Video

Trailer: POV: Mugabe And The White African

Watch the full episode. See more POV.

Above: “Mugabe and the White African,” much of which was filmed clandestinely, tells an alarming story from one of the world’s most troubled nations. In Zimbabwe, de facto dictator Robert Mugabe has unleashed a “land reform” program aimed at driving whites from the country through violence and intimidation. One proud “white African,” however, has challenged Mugabe with human rights abuses under international law.

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