It was a frigid June night at Pickstone Mine in Zimbabwe when 67-year-old Angela Campbell—soaking wet, her arm broken and a gun to her head—signed a document vowing to give up the fight for her family’s farm.
The kidnappers demanding her signature at gunpoint were “war veterans” from President Robert Mugabe’s heyday as a liberation hero, and they made it clear that her refusal would mean more beatings.
Though Campbell signed the document, her son-in-law said she has no intention of giving up her battle; Campbell’s family will be in Windhoek, Namibia, on Wednesday to present arguments to a Southern African Development Community tribunal.
In pursuing the case, the Campbells and 77 fellow Zimbabwean farmers are risking theft, torture and death for what may be their only remaining chance to save the homes and farms so coveted by Mugabe and his loyalists.
Mugabe blames the West for his nation’s soaring inflation and poverty. But analysts say Mugabe’s 2000 “resettlement” policy, in which property was snatched from white farmers and redistributed to landless blacks, is more to blame for the country’s turmoil. Watch a report from the time of the Campbell attack »
“All I want to see is justice,” said Richard Etheredge, 72, a white farmer who was evicted from his farm last month. “The world cannot carry on with criminals.”
Looters stole his computers, farm equipment, antiques, custom gun collection and a safe with billions in Zimbabwean currency (hundreds of thousands in U.S. dollars). Etheredge said he watched the thieves abscond with his possessions in vehicles belonging to the senator.
The looters also caused about $1 million in damage to his property, which includes three houses and a fruit-packing plant that was once among the most sophisticated in southern Africa. The Etheredges have been farming for 17 years and, before the attack, were producing 400,000 cartons of navel oranges and kumquats a year, he said.
On June 29, Freeth received a phone call: “War veterans,” as the clans of pro-Mugabe thugs call themselves, were heading to his in-laws’ house. Laura and her brother, Bruce, gathered their children. Laura fled with the children through a fence on the northern boundary of Mount Carmel farm, Freeth said.
Freeth jumped in his car and sped 11⁄2 kilometers to the Campbell house.
“These guys had already arrived, and they started shooting at me as soon as I drove through the gate,” he said.
The bullets missed, but one of the war veterans hurled a rock through the driver’s side window, smashing Freeth’s right eye shut.
“They dragged me out of the vehicle and began beating me over the head with rifle butts,” Freeth said.
The men tied up Freeth, he said, and took him to where his in-laws were lying bound on the gravel outside their home.
Freeth and the Campbells were driven about 50 kilometers (31 miles) to Pickstone Mine. Their captors stopped at a dairy farm on the way and killed a white farmer’s dogs, Freeth said. Night had fallen by the time they arrived at the mine to find about 60 men in Zanu-PF regalia waiting for them.
Freeth and the Campbells were doused with cold water and left “shivering in the dust on the ground,” Freeth said. They received more beatings, and Freeth said one of their captors thrashed the bottom of his feet with a shambock, a whip made of hippopotamus hide.
Mike Campbell moved in and out of consciousness, as Ben and Angela prayed—not for their lives, but for their captors. Freeth said he had never understood Luke 6:28—”Bless those who curse you”—until that moment, and a “supernatural” peace came over him.
Freeth told God, “If I’m going to be with you today, then I’m ready.”
One thing not battered is the farmers’ resolve to remain on the land that the Campbells have owned for 34 years.
“We intend to be there on Wednesday, and we just hope for an outcome that is good for everyone, an outcome for justice,” Freeth said of the hearing, which is slated to last through Friday.
Freeth said he believes that the tribunal will carry more clout with Mugabe than do Western nations and the African and European unions. Many of its member nations are led by Mugabe’s contemporaries, and Mugabe is aware that his status as an African hero is waning, he said.