Mugabe and the White African, which is being shown at the One World festival of human rights documentaries in Prague, follows Michael Campbell, one of the few white farmers left in Zimbabwe after years of land seizures, as he takes the brutal regime of Robert Mugabe to court at the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Campbell wins his legal battle against the dictator, but at great cost to himself and his family. I spoke to one of the directors of Mugabe and the White African, Lucy Bailey.
“I think when we made this film we wanted to bring attention to the whole Zimbabwe issue. We were aware of what was going on inside Zimbabwe, but of course it was always going to be so difficult to do with a total press ban.
“People weren’t making anything about Zimbabwe, and we were determined to try to do that, and make a proper feature film that would play on a big screen.”
A lot of the film was shot covertly. How much danger were you in?
“The film was very risky to make. It was all shot covertly so that meant that we had to smuggle ourselves and our equipment into Zimbabwe. It was risky because at any time if we had been found out we would have been thrown into prison.
“We had to be very careful with our logistical planning, essentially. We had to be one step ahead of the authorities and had to come up with inventive ways of getting ourselves in and out. We were literally smuggling equipment by, you know, welding camera lenses into car doors and this kind of thing to get it in. We had to ship the camera equipment down the Zambezi at night on a boat, so quite difficult.”
At the end of the film this white farmer Michael Campbell, who’s an elderly man, has won this legal case against the Mugabe government, but his farm has been burnt down. Was there any achievement in his legal battle, do you think, did he actually achieve anything?
“The SADC tribunal is a brand new human rights court and those five black African judges made the right decision that day on behalf of every citizen in southern Africa. So we have to be hopeful.
“Yes, the Zimbabwean government have ignored it, but I think you have to start somewhere, and it’s a slow process building this new human rights culture.”
Can a documentary like yours have an impact on policy in the real world, so to speak?
“It’s so difficult to know. A film is a film and what we hope it can do is bring people together to get them to discuss the issues.
“I think the film takes you on an emotional journey so you really see what’s been going on. I think people are aware of Zimbabwe through news stories and aware of what has happened to white farmers.
“But I think that the film gives you a much deeper insight. And yes, the film is a useful discussion tool…we have screened it in SADC and we are hoping to reach people in a position to make decisions, to make a difference.”
And how do you think the rest of the world should deal with Robert Mugabe?
“People mustn’t be frightened by that. It is very difficult, but at the end of the day this is a total dictator and it’s all about political power for him. It’s not a black and white thing – Mugabe is suppressing the majority of his population.”
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