LAST Tuesday, I counted about 200 people that attended a special evening screening of an independently-produced documentary that deals with the emotive issues of land, race, wealth re-distribution and what it means to be African in Zimbabwe.
This documentary, a riveting first-hand account of farm invasions told from a position of the dispossessed victim, in this case the white family, left most of the audience in tears when the lights were turned on after 90 minutes.
‘Mugabe and the White African’ traces the traumatic events that haunted a white commercial farming family in Chegutu since the listing of their farm for land acquisition appeared in local newspapers in 1997.
It talks about the rise in the politics of terror as farm invasions increased over the years, the gripping court cases between the white family and the government of Zimbabwe as they fought to keep the farm they bought and developed for nearly two decades.
The main message and question Mike Campbell, who bought the farm in 1979, puts is that just as there are black Africans, why can’t President Mugabe accept that there are also white Africans and white Zimbabweans that merely want to be treated equally like everyone else?
The documentary depicts their trials and tribulations on and off the farm, the relationship of the white family to their workers and their farm.
While a great number of white farmers were evicted starting in the late 1990s, the Campbells held on longer than most until they were finally forced to desert the farm last year.
The film was recorded between 2007 and 2009 and the camera follows events from the farm in Chegutu, to the courts in Harare, then Cape Town, then to Windhoek and also Kent, England.
It carries many of those famous clips of President Mugabe’s speeches and other declarations on Zimbabwe, on Britain, on land and historical imbalances.
Before and after the screening of the film, the lean, bearded Ben Freeth, Campbells son-in-law and a key protagonist in the documentary, said the recordings were done under difficult circumstances.
“The film makers faced the risk of being locked up all the time we were recording in Zimbabwe. This is the first account to come out of Zimbabwe in the last ten years. This is the real life we have been living,” Freeth said.
Ben said Zimbabwe is characterised by control, intimidation and fear. He informed the audience that the violent land invasions depicted on their documentary was one of the main reasons why nearly a third of the country’s population of more than 12 million were currently living abroad.
But the biggest point he raised, both in the film and in the discussion that followed the screening, is that despite the beatings and the eventual razing down of the farmhouse last year, he bore no ‘malice or grievance against the perpetrators of violence’ against him and his family and said the fortunes of Zimbabwe are reversible.
I made my own short contribution.
In that sea of more than 200 white faces there, I counted only four other blacks: a middle-aged mother and her teenage daughter; a young Zimbabwean couple sitting and talking behind my seat, and another gentleman who entered at the same time as I but who chose a seat right at the back of the auditorium while I sat in the third front row.
I told them I am 30 years old, yes I am a Zimbabwean and yes I have lived all my life under the shadow of President Robert Mugabe.
I told them that yes indeed a deep rooted culture of terror and intimidation by the ruling party has destroyed most of the gains that we grew up under, especially in the first 20 years of independence.
I saluted Freeth for the guts to record such a traumatic experience, to loose everything but yet still come out reinforcing a message of forgiveness even when he now stays somewhere else in Harare, who I grew up most of my life.
Above all I told them that yes, just like Freeth said, the fortunes of Zimbabwe are reversible when there is a return to respect for property rights.
By reversible I do not refer to bringing back all the dispossessed 3,800 white commercial farmers back, but that the people of Zimbabwe have the singular ability to get back on their feet and move forward again, both black and white.
What I did not have time to tell them is that the documentary is a precursor of things to come from everyone who has been affected by President Robert Mugabe’s policies.
The black majority of Zimbabweans have suffered worse conditions in the last 10 years, both within and without the country.
Within a period of ten years, Ben Freeth, a white commercial farmer has mutated from a productive commercial farmer, to a fighter for his farm, to a fighter in the courts in Harare, Cape Town, Windhoek, to a fighter in the media at this year’s Durban International Film Festival because in this specific case scenario his sense of being wronged and his justification for his case is stronger than all the fear of hell and terror he has gone through.
Do you see the pattern?
In the last ten years millions have lost their jobs in Zimbabwe, greater numbers disposed of their dignity, even more numbers living with scars in all the townships of Southern Africa.
All these millions carry different traumatic scars, but just as harder as they have been pushed to the very periphery of life and patience, the faster have their roles and conditions transformed from victim to different levels of empowerment.
‘Mugabe and the White African’ is a documentary that shows how an injustice or wrong mutates and how the perpetration and perpetuation of terror on the human soul takes on different transformative forms and eventually reaches the cathartic stage where the initial act of dispossessing the victim culminates in a new empowered possessor.
So I am saying if Ben Freeth has transformed from a farmer of food consumed locally and internationally in a period of just ten years to a farmer of minds taking his sense of injustice to a higher platform, then how much further can he and others go?
Someone in Harare should be seriously worried about the clear implications this means for the wider black majority at different stages of this transformation!
Givemore Nyanhi is a Zimbabwean journalist and blogger based in South Africa