Under Review: ‘Mugabe and the White African’


I am confused by this film’s contents and I’ll tell you why. Historically, Black Africans were disenfranchised and marginalized in their own countries for generations. Whites took their land, their government and their soul. White-run businesses transported fathers from families for months at a time to work in mines with minimal safety precautions and insanely low wages.

So this film is confusing to me.

Robert Mugabe is the current president of Zimbabwe. He was elected in a movement against white-minority rule and has served in office since 1980. His response to indentured colonialism was a promise to give the land back to the people. The UK joined him in this venture for 10 years, helping to pay the costs.

In this film, the narrator reports Mugabe’s land reform plan disregards all white land claims and property rights. The government confiscates operational farms from white operators, giving them to friends and relatives with no experience in agriculture. Many of these farms are then looted of valuable items and left unproductive.

The whites — in particular Mike Campbell and his family — saw this seizure as illegal and unjust and fought back. That’s the story of this documentary. It is a sympathetic look at white landowners who love their land, their black workers and their farming business. They are willing to risk their lives to keep what they have purchased and developed.

To get the covert footage they did is remarkable. From 2007-09 the filmmakers recorded the Campbell Family’s struggle with the Zimbabwe government. The doc shows their attempts at a judicial verdict in a Namibian court, run-ins with vigilantes ready to live on their property until they leave, results of intimidation attempts on their workers, footage of other white families who are forced off their farms and shots of the results of torture and violence.

Interspersed is footage of the Campbells’ white-haired angelic-looking children running through the deep grasses of their farmland and vignettes of their mothers who are ready to face death in the face of increased physical intimidation from Mugabe’s forces.

I kept thinking, “It’s time to leave! Let the indigenous people have the land. Return to Europe. You don’t belong.”

Yet, as I whispered this I reflected that I have evolved with a double standard. If anyone, including any group of legal immigrants, were in America and being intimidated by groups forcing them to leave because of their ethnic origin, wouldn’t I raise up my voice in protest? Knowing about the Japanese Internment, before I was even born, haven’t I apologized to my Asian friends (and relatives) with deepest shame and regret?

So why should I be hesitant about the case in Zimbabwe? The Campbells comprise three generations, the last two born on the land. The grandfather spent 20 years paying back a bank loan to own their farm. They have a wonderful record of community and regional support. They provide jobs for 500 workers and their families.

Why am I not just as outraged about their treatment as I am about how minorities have been abused in America? What’s the deal?

“Mugabe and the White African” is a springboard for further discussion. What are some options for the whites? What is the right thing to do now in response to the historical rape of an entire continent?

An interview with the director, Andrew Thompson, and film focus, Ben Freeth, gives film excerpts and information on what’s happened after this film was produced.

This film, like all the entries in the Northwest Film Center’s series on Human Rights, challenges the viewer to think from a different perspective. Each film enriches and deepens a sense that we are global citizens on a journey to continually contemplate and support the just and humane response to the human condition.


Screening dates and awards:
Arturi Films in association with Explore Films, Film Agency For Wales and Molinare productions
Directed by Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson
Produced by David Pearson and Elizabeth Morgan Hemlock
Executive Producers Steve Milne and Pauline Burt
Edited by Tim Lovell
Cast: Mike Campbell, Ben Freeth, their family and friends

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