It may come as a surprise to some that there was a time in Zimbabwe’s history when Robert Mugabe was considered quite the heroic figure in continental Africa, after rising to prominence in the 1960s as a Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) leader in guerrilla warfare against white-minority rule in then Rhodesia. For his actions, he spent more than a decade in prison in the 1960s and ’70s.
But in recent times, some have questioned the iron-fisted octogenarian’s sanity, as he’s ruled a government that could effectively be defined as a kleptocracy, ridden with violence against opponents, deadly disease, sky-high rates of unemployment and inflation, as many in the country have found themselves on the brink of starvation, while Mugabe’s wife makes insensitive comments like, “I have very narrow feet, so I wear only Ferragamo.”
All that said… I don’t think I was the only one who let out a quiet cheer when I heard that Mugabe sought to rewrite the country’s constitution to allow his government to confiscate white-owned land for redistribution to black farmers without compensation – essentially expropriating thousands of white-owned farms.
The act was of course denounced as racism against Zimbabwe’s white minority. But Mugabe and his supporters saw it more as a kind of retaliation against white European imperialism, calling his white critics “born again colonialists;” and, again, some of us cheered, whether openly or covertly, fully aware of the unjust division of land between whites and blacks – a legacy of colonialism and white minority rule in Zimbabwe, and several other countries in the region. It’s certainly wasn’t in support of Mugabe’s overall record, but rather support for the rights of the nation’s indigenous people to ownership of what is essentially their property.
Thousands of white farmers were told to leave their farmlands, with those refusing to comply, facing consequences, as Mugabe continued to insist that this “land redistribution” would continue, calling for the few remaining white farmers who failed to heed the previous call, to vacate their properties.
It was inevitable that this story would become fodder for some filmmaker’s work of narrative fiction or non-fiction – in this specific case, a British-made documentary aptly titled Mugabe And The White African, which, won the World Feature Grand Jury Price at the 2009 Silverdocs Film Festival, and the Jury Prize at the Hampton Film Festival that same year It also received nominations for the British Independent Film Award, the IDA Distinguished Features Award, and the Cinema Eye Award for Outstanding Achievement in an International Feature Film.
Mugabe And The White African was shot covertly in Zimbabwe in 2008, and tells the story of white farmer Mike Campbell, who took Mugabe to court for racism and actually won his case, “despite a campaign of intimidation against him and his family.”
The film was directed by Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson.
Hemlock Morgan, one of the film’s producers describes it as, “… an extraordinary account of surviving, and the film reveals the devastating consequences of Mugabe’s illegal land reform for black and white Zimbabweans.”
Illegal? Depends on who you ask.
When OJ Simpson was acquitted of murder in the 90s, we (black people) collectively cheered, even though many of us thought the man was guilty. I’m certainly not comparing OJ to Mugabe… and maybe we were wrong for cheering on the release of a murderer, or Mugabe’s land redistribution; however, there’s a shared history that influences occurrences like these that must be acknowledged.
So who’s in the right here? You know, I’m not so sure… it’ll be the equivalent of native Americans seeking to reclaim the land that many of us currently work on – land that was once arguably rightfully theirs, until the Europeans visited from the other side of the Atlantic, and never left.
Recall during Obama’s presidential run 3 years ago, which was accompanied by all that noise from certain whites (especially those in the southern regions of the country) who latently feared that a black man in the white house would lead to some sort of retribution against whites in this country, as “payback” for their years of discrimination towards and oppression of just about every minority group – specifically blacks in this instance. I suppose they had some reasons to be afraid, given what Mugabe had already begun implementing in Zimbabwe, years prior.
The documentary had a brief theatrical run last year, though I didn’t see it, and will now make its USA television debut, when it airs on PBS a week from today, on July 26 specifically.
Here’s a trailer for Mugabe And The White African: