Farmer who took Mugabe to court dies of his injuries
Mike Campbell (79), the Zimbabwean commercial farmer who made legal history when he took President Mugabe to the international court of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal in 2007 and won the case a year later, passed away at his temporary home in Harare on April 6.\r\n
Campbell never recovered from the abduction and brutal beatings meted out to him, his wife Angela and son-in-law Ben Freeth by Zanu-PF thugs late at night in a remote militia camp on June 29, 2008 just two days after the Presidential run-off election.
Eventually their captors forced them at gunpoint to sign a paper stating that they would withdraw from the SADC Tribunal court case, due to be heard in Namibia the following month. They were dumped outside the town of Kadoma from where they were rushed to hospital.
Campbell sustained severe head injuries which resulted in brain damage, broken ribs and damage to his lower limbs caused by a crude and brutal torture method known as falanga.
This involves beating the soles of the feet with iron bars, logs or cables and can result in permanent disability or death due to kidney failure. Campbell’s medical report noted that severe force had been used and that the possibility of permanent damage was likely.
A dedicated farmer and conservationist, Campbell purchased Mount Carmel farm in the Chegutu district in 1975 and spent the next 24 years paying back the loan.
The farm was transferred legally into the family’s company name in 1999 on receipt of a “certificate of no interest” from the Mugabe government which had the first purchase option on any sale.
Over the years Campbell built up the farm, stocking it with a wide variety of game long before the importance of wildlife conservation had become widely recognized.
He played an important role in forming the Wildlife Producers’ Association of Zimbabwe and was appointed its first chairman.
After independence in 1980, Campbell purchased the neighbouring farm to make his wildlife area viable and built what was to become a popular tourist destination, the Biri River Safari Lodge, on the property.
On Mount Carmel, Campbell grew tobacco and maize and built up a sturdy Mashona / Sussex cattle herd, providing valuable breeding stock for the region.
Later he experimented with mango growing and, by importing carefully selected varieties, he eventually developed those that would best suit their area and the export market.
Campbell became the first and largest commercial mango grower in Zimbabwe, generating critically needed foreign currency. He was brought onto the committee of the Southern African Mango Growers’ Association and attended international mango symposia.
The Mount Carmel pack shed became one of the first to be accredited by EUROGAP for good agricultural practices that would assist with the export market.
Described as a model employer, Campbell had a large workforce and, with wives and children, the farm sustained more than 500 people.
After the farm invasions began in 2001, Campbell, his family, their workers and other farmers in the district became the target of unrelenting state-sponsored violence and intimidation. The safari lodge was burnt down, their wildlife slaughtered and their cattle rustled.
After getting no recourse from the Zimbabwean courts, Campbell took his case to the SADC Tribunal in October 2007 and in March the following year an additional 77 other white commercial farmers joined the case as interveners.
In November 2008, the SADC Tribunal ruled that the farmers could keep their land because the land reform programme was not being conducted according to the rule of law and was also discriminatory.
However, the victimization continued and the following year both the Campbell and Freeth homesteads were burnt to the ground, together with worker homes and their linen factory, an upliftment project initiated by Freeth’s wife Laura for the wives of farm workers.
Last month Campbell and an elderly black commercial farmer Luke Tembani, who has also been dispossessed, lodged an application with the Tribunal for an order that would ensure the Tribunal would continue to function in all respects as established by Article 16 of the Treaty.
This followed the Tribunal’s suspension by the SADC heads of state pending a review of its role functions and terms of reference, thus attempting to block further court action.
A documentary film about the court case and the family’s brave stand, “Mugabe and the White African”, has brought the plight of Zimbabwean farmers and their farm workers to the world stage and has won numerous international film festival awards.
“What Mike and his family have achieved for Zimbabwe and the whole of Southern Africa in setting an international precedent in property rights and the rights of white Africans in international law will only be realized by most people in years to come when we have a government that will respect the rule of law and the rights of people,” said Deon Theron, president of the Commercial Farmers’ Union in Zimbabwe.
Campbell is survived by his wife, Angela, their son Bruce, two daughters, Cathy and Laura, and 5 grandchildren as well as 6th due to be born next month.