Lucy Bailey and Andrew Thompson’s documentary traces the legal case that white farmer Mike Campbell brings against the Zimbabwean government. He’s a white farmer trying to keep his land in the face of the Lancaster House Agreement, signed into law in 1979, by which white-owned land was to be redistributed among the disenfranchised black population and the whites who ruled the nation for 100 years, from 1890 until Robert Mugabe’s election in 1980. While other African nations (Ethiopia, Kenya, Namibia, and South Africa) have long since initiated land reform, Mugabe’s government shifted in the 1990s from a typical “willing seller, willing buyer” model to a more aggressive strategy that, the film notes, has evicted some 4,000 white farmers. The “popular seizure” of property by armed gang affiliated with the government has increased (or exposed) ongoing racial tensions. As Mike Campbell’s son-in-law Ben Freeth puts it, “This is very much a racial issue, sparked by a very racist black man running this country.” If Mugabe’s brutality and dishonesty are well known, their effects are made especially painful here when Campbell and Freeth, along with Mike’s wife Angela, are assaulted by men invading their farm. This occurs off screen, as the camera instead focuses on the reception of the news by Ben’s parents in Kent, but follow-up images of the victims in hospital ensure your sympathy and outrage. As the legal case goes forward, the film makes increasingly dramatic music and formal choices, reinforcing the righteous position of this “white African” and omitting the past colonial context that continues to confuse and confound today’s efforts to set records and rights “straight.” The questions of national and raced identities remain unresolved. Mugabe and the White African airs as part of POV beginning Tuesday, 26 July. The film will be available to view online from 27 July through 25 October 2011.
See PopMatters’ review.