Can you survive losing everything – your friends, family and all your worldly possessions? Yes, provided you don’t lose hope and dignity. That’s the message of this emotional documentary, which follows a white Zimbabwean farmer who challenged President Robert Mugabe.
A notable piece of documentary filmmaking, Mugabe and the White African tells the story of Michael Campbell, one of the few white farmers left in Zimbabwe since President Mugabe began his land seizure program in 2000. Initially a policy instigated to reclaim white-owned land and redistribute it to the poor blacks in Zimbabwe, Mugabe’s land reform – according to the documentary – has violently evicted 400 white farmers, displaced the local farm workers and illegally distributed many of these lands to his loyal supporters instead.
Through the personal account of Campbell, the 75-year-old mild-mannered grandfather, and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth, filmmakers Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson covertly follow the plight of this resilient family who are determined not to lose the land that Campbell claims to have rightfully owned since 1974. Armed with his title deed, a dose of Dutch courage and, on one occasion, a camcorder, Campbell takes on the Zimbabwean president in an international court citing illegal racial discrimination and a violation of basic human rights.
Filmed over 12 months, the film follows Freeth and Campbell as they traipse back and forth to an international tribunal court in Namibia, always in constant fear of retaliation from Mugabe’s henchmen. It’s a case that has made national headlines in Southern Africa.
Too often with documentaries, we get the tears, and in this one, which hinges on emotional moments in sound and image, is no exception. A story of resilient people fighting under conditions few of us could imagine in a country where people are playing by their own rules, it’s a moving portrayal of a family who had the vision and courage to fight the Zimbabwean regime.
“Is it possible to be a white man and an African?” questions a defeated Freeth as the case is postponed yet again. “If you ask Mugabe, the answer is no. You cannot be a white man and an African, and there is something very wrong in that.”
Mugabe and the White African releases in select theaters Aug 13.