Mugabe and the White African

by Anna Blanch on August 15, 2011

For years now I’ve listened to the resigned sadness of Zimbawbwean friends. The land of their birth is not as it once was. Their homes are not theirs any longer. There’s a fragility to their patriotism. It is tinged with hurt and despair in a society which has few terms to understand what has happened to them and their families.
To say I was looking forward to reading Ben Freeth’s Mugabe and the White African doesn’t no justice to the ambivalence I knew I would feel. It’s like watching the movie version of the true story of an accident. You know what’s going to happen and it really doesn’t feel good to see it writ large. But, that’s not to say you shouldn’t read it, especially if you have not heard the stories of friends and colleagues driven from their homes.

Mugabe and the White African Ben Freeth has an extraordinary story to tell in Mugabe and the White African (Lion Books,  2011 ISBN: 978-0-7459-5546-9, $14.95). “Mount Carmel” farm was purchased by Mike Campbell from the independent Zimbabwean government and operated with the help of his son-in-law, Ben Freeth. Like that of many white farmers, his family’s land was “reclaimed” for redistribution by President Mugabe’s government.

But Ben’s and his family fought back. Appealing to international law, they instigated a suit against Mugabe’s government in the SADC, the Southern African equivalent of NATO. The case was deferred time and again while Mugabe’s men pulled strings. But after Freeth and his parents-in-law were abducted and beaten savagely in 2008, the SADC deemed further delay to be an obstruction of justice. The case was heard, and was successful on all counts.  Yet, In 2009 the family farm was tragically burned to the ground by Mugabe supporters.
But this isn’t just a biographical account as Freeth grapples with what he sees as the underlying spiritual battle that have allowed the leaders to inflict such suffering. His description of his initial meeting with Mugabe years before is haunting. His descriptions of his travels through Somalia and Ethiopa in the wake of genocide and civil unrest are sobering. Freeth describes many acts of violence perpetrated against farmers and farm workers and the wanton destruction of  commercial farming enterprises; many which were once the backbone of the Zimbabwean economy.

The description of the beatings Freeth and his parents-in-law were subjected to is heart-rending as are the details of the other patients in the clinic where they were treated in the weeks following. The details of the personal violence need no adjective – the statement of the mere facts of their injuries and the circumstances of their beatings are mind boggling. Be prepared for a harrowing account that may well pierce your heart. I challenge you not to ‘feel’ while reading this book. Whether you are incensed or bewildered, saddened or emboldened – you will feel.

Forewords by John Sentamu and Desmond Tutu are worth noting. Tutu’s explanation of the classical African concept of ubuntu — the essence of being human — is particularly insightful:

The spirit of ubuntu is dimiished when others are humiliated or diminished — and when others are tortured or opprressed. It is encouraging that throughout the book there are examples of extraordinary courage, humanity, and neighbourliness that embody the philosophy of ubuntu. (8)

Freeth believes Ephesians 6:12 more accurately reflects his family’s fight than this being about one family’s struggle against Mugabe: “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”  Freeth says, “The land issue is not a struggle for land. It is a struggle (politics aside) for the control of the spiritual places, the ‘High Places.’… It is a struggle of good against evil ‘in the heavenly realms.‘” (100-101)

It is this direct connection to a spiritual battle where the theological implications which will be confronting for many readers. Freeth is forthright in presenting his story intertwined with his spiritual journey and its implications. The courage of Mike Campbell, Ben Freeth, and their family is a remarkable witness to their faith in the grace of God in Christ. Mugabe and the White African is told, as Bishop Sentamu encourages, a lesson to the Christian community to stand together with their brothers and sisters who live under the tyranny of Mugabe or any evil ruler, and an exhortation of the need to pray they will find deliverance (13).

Buy the Book

Ben Freeth, MBE, is a British-born Zimbabwean farmer. He has lived in Zimbabwe most of his life and is raising his three young children there, together with his wife Laura. Ben’s story has already been the subject of an award-winning documentary which won Best Documentary 2009 (British Independent Film Awards), was nominated for the BAFTA Outstanding Debut Film 2010, and shortlisted for an Oscar in 2010. the award-winning documentary of the same name, was on July 26. Watch now at PBS

This post is part of a Litfuse Blog Tour; A copy of this book was provided to the reviewer. See my disclosure for more information.

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