Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mugabe and the White African (2009)

     If one did not already know that Robert Mugabe was a thoroughly reprehensible human being, Andrew Thompson and Lucy Bailey's documentary Mugabe and the White African (2009) will provide a rough overview.  The film focuses on one family's legal struggle -- in an international court of law, because the Zimbabwean government acts counter to its own established laws -- to keep their farm as well as the danger they face for trying to preserve their rights.  Mugabe's government, an unfortunate mix of brutal thuggery and kleptocracy, established a policy of driving white Zimbabweans (under the belief that "Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans", and that can't include the descendents of colonists) from their farm land and resources.  Once taken, the land goes untended.  The 'Zimbabweans' who worked the land are beaten and/or driven off, and are also left without a source of livelihood or the community they had built with the resident farmers.
     Ben Freeth, the son-in-law of Mike Campbell (the man who brought the suit against Mugabe), asks the question, "Can a white man be an African?", noting that there is a very strong movement to deny that possibility.  The film does not explore the far-reaching implications of colonization and what legitimate resentments and countermeasures may be valid.  It shows the remaining white farmers in Zimbabwe as good people who respect the land, the people who work for them (this feels a little like a magnanimous plantation system and far from ideal, but it does seem better than the semi-tribal lawlessness of the government supported thugs), and the rule of law.  Campbell and Freeth risk their lives (literally) in pursuit of the idea that they have the right to remain on land Campbell should and does legally own.
     The movie has both happy and tragic endings.  It is a sober examination of civil rights in Africa (and perhaps in way we're not used to seeing).  It gives hints to some of the external forces driving the expulsion of Europeans and people of European descent (China) but doesn't explore them.  It also has some pacing issues that occasionally lessen the tension, but not so much as to take the viewer out of the story.  I cannot say I enjoyed Mugabe and the White African, but I do think it is a more than worthwhile watch.

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