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Ben Freeth speech to Royal Geographical Society

Ben Freeth speech to Royal Geographical Society

This is the text of a speech presented by Ben Freeth at the Royal 
Geographical Society in London on Wednesday 14 March for the launch of the 
Mike Campbell Foundation, together with a photo.

His co-presenters were Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York who, as a 
High Court judge in Uganda, was beaten up by the Idi Amin regime, and Dr 
Paul Negrut, President of the Emmanuel University of Oradea, Romania.  Dr 
Negrut is respected internationally for his stand against the repressive 
communist regime.

14 March 2012

Presentation at the Royal Geographical Society

Dictatorship in Zimbabwe:  What stands in its way?
By Ben Freeth

It is a great honour and a privilege to be here tonight and talking to you 
all with Archbishop Sentamu, [the Archbishop of York], and Dr. Paul Negrut 
[of Rumania].  I have such a deep respect for them.  Thank you, Kate Hoey 
[Labour MP for Vauxhall, South London], for chairing.  Thank you all for 
being here in this place – this place from which missionary explorers like 
David Livingstone set out on his explorations into the African interior all 
those years ago.

Many of you here tonight will know my story.  I will not dwell on it.  There 
is a book for you to read and a film for you to watch.  In the sustained 
attacks against us by the state machinery in Zimbabwe I have been beaten 
with whips; beaten with sticks; beaten with rifle butts.  I have been kicked 
around on the ground and had bones broken and my skull fractured.  I have 
been shot at. I have been abducted.  I have been tied up.  I have had guns 
put to my head.  I have been arrested.   I have had our home surrounded by 
men with guns.  I have had our home broken into by men dragging burning 
tires through it and threatening rape and death – and threatening to eat our 
children.  We have had everything stolen and everything burnt and when we 
got off the farm we did not even have a toothbrush between us.  It is only 
by the amazing grace of God that I stand here today.

But I wish to talk tonight about something from long ago that I have come to 
hold very precious – something more precious in holding societies and 
nations and peoples together than anything else.  It is something that 12 
years ago I knew almost nothing about; but which now, only when it was taken 
away, I have come to value so greatly.

There is a story about a place by a river in Africa.   One day a crying baby 
came floating down the river in a little basket and one of the women of that 
place heard the baby crying and rescued it and looked after it.  The next 
day a woman came floating down the river holding onto a log and she was 
emaciated and had been raped.  The people in that place took her in and they 
gave her food and looked after her.  The day after that a man who had been 
mutilated came floating down the river.  He had had his hands chopped off 
and he was also very thin.  The people of that place bandaged him up and fed 
him and looked after him.

The days went by; and then the weeks; and then the years.  All the time 
desperate people carried on coming down the river – mostly in waves. 
Sometimes very few people would come down and it was thought that everything 
must now be OK upstream.  At other times great numbers of people desperately 
needing help would come down.  The people of that place carried on helping 
where they could; but they couldn’t help everyone and the suffering was very 
Over the years so many people came down needing food and medicine that the 
people of that place began to suffer themselves – and many of them didn’t 
want to help any more.

And so it is so often under dictatorship.  We used to come to Harare 
sometimes and talk to the people there about what was happening in the rural 
areas and the people would often say: “Is that still happening?”  And mostly 
they would try to change the subject.

When the film Mugabe and the White African first came out, I met an elderly 
gentleman here in London who said to me after watching it: “You know, I have 
never met an evil man.”  It was clear to me that this man had never tried to 
go upstream. You see people generally do not like to go upstream.  They are 
afraid of what they might meet.  They are afraid of what might happen to 
In Zimbabwe there are some influential people that have tried to go 
upstream.  The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture tried to come in but he was 
turned around at the border and deported.  Unfortunately the UN did nothing 
about it.

When Zwelinzima Vavi, the Secretary General of COSATU, the trade union 
movement in South Africa, flew up to Zimbabwe in 2005, he was put in a 
minibus and deported.  He tried to come back a second time but after that 
the trade unions have failed so far to do anything effective about the melt 
down taking place on their northern border.

When the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, [Morgan Tsvangirai], wanted to go to 
the [Marange] diamond fields in his own country where some estimate that 25 
percent of the world’s diamonds lie, and where a military massacre had taken 
place, he was turned around too – and was unable to go back.

I asked various senior people in the Zimbabwe Government to come out and see 
with their own eyes what was happening on Mount Carmel Farm where we lived. 
When we eventually got them to come they assured us we could farm on; but 
when, within hours of their leaving, there was further brutalisation of our 
workers  and all of our crops and tractors and everything else was stolen 
and eventually our houses burnt down, they never tried to come again or to 
say anything about it.

When we went to the Southern African Development Community’s highest court, 
the SADC Tribunal, about the racial discrimination in taking our homes and 
livelihoods, the complete lack of any compensation and the flat denial of 
even giving us or our workers a hearing in our own courts regarding our 
criminalization for living in our own homes and trying to produce food in a 
nation that is starving, we won.

But what did the southern African states do to enforce that?  After the 
Zimbabwe Government had been found to be in contempt of the highest court in 
southern Africa three times, the southern African leaders at their last 
summit [May 2011] closed the doors of that court and sent their judges 
packing.  To this day – to the best of my knowledge – no outside government 
has said or done anything about the Zimbabwe Government’s continued contempt 
of court!

When the British Government was asked in parliament recently to write to the 
Secretary General of the UN to activate the UN Committee on the Elimination 
of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, they refused.  Rather, they 
subsequently lifted the travel ban and unfroze the assets of some of the 
people that they had formerly deemed responsible for being involved in 
aiding and abetting the break-down of human rights and the rule of law in 

It is a long and sorry story of people with influence refusing to really go 
upstream.  We could be here all night if I carried on.

I want to go back to the river in Africa and talk about that precious thing. 
There was another baby in a basket once.  He was rescued from where he had 
been hidden near the delta of the longest river in the world about 3,500 
years ago – the same river that David Livingstone went to try to find the 
source of.  The same river from the same country [Uganda] from which 
Archbishop Sentamu also sprang.  This baby grew up in the household of those 
that had ordered the killing of all the other  male babies.

When he grew up, he had a strong sense of what injustice and the abuse of 
power was.  He tried to protect one of his people from being flogged once – 
and was so incensed that he killed one of the Pharaoh’s men – and had to run 
away.  When he eventually came back he went to the Pharaoh to ask him to let 
his people go.  Pharaoh refused and there were severe consequences for each 
refusal.  Eventually on the tenth request to let his people go we read that 
Pharaoh let Moses’ people go.  Moses walked with his people through the Red 
Sea and they came out the other side as a free people – a free nation for 
the first time.

They were in the Sinai desert then and before they had gone more than a few 
miles this man Moses went up Mount Sinai.  On Mount Sinai something very 
significant happened in the history of the world.  Moses was given the Law – 
inscribed by God’s finger on two tablets of stone.

Around those two tablets the Ark of the Covenant was made and they were 
carried in the front of the nation.  The first thing to cross the Jordan 
River was the Ark with the law inside it – and the river dried up in front 
of it to allow safe passage.

We then read through history and we see how precious the law was to those 
people and how when the people upheld the law they flourished in the land 
and they became the superpower of the day, set as they were in the centre of 
the world between Africa, Europe and Asia.  In the centre of their kingdom 
was built the temple with all its gold – but at the centre of the temple was 
the most precious thing – those two plain tablets of ordinary stone.

I am honoured to have had a father-in-law, [Mike Campbell], who understood 
the importance of standing for the law.  You see, when the law is taken 
away, when there is nothing left protecting people and their property from 
the abuse of power, poverty and suffering immediately result.  Over a 
trillion dollars has poured into post independent Africa.  Much has been 
done to bind up the wounds and to feed the starving – but still there are 
more and more wounds and more and more starving people coming down the 

Unless we go courageously to the source; unless we try to hold people 
accountable; unless we boldly bring out the truth and do not let it be a 
casualty, unless we strengthen those institutions and those people that are 
trying to help build houses of justice in Africa so that people and their 
property are protected from corrupt and evil leaders, the suffering will 
continue – and the trillions will continue to be needed to try to alleviate 
the severe poverty that Africans are in.

Ladies and gentleman, I come from the richest continent on earth in terms of 
natural resources.  I come from a continent with more agricultural potential 
than any other.  I come from a country that used to be the bread basket of 
Africa  – but when I go to the rural areas where that food was produced I 
find only desolation, hunger, suffering and extreme poverty.

When the rule of law was usurped by the dictatorial rule by law, the 
collapse happened very quickly.  We became the fastest shrinking economy in 
history in a peace time situation.  GDP per capita income more than halved. 
While in Zambia it grew from US$3bn to US$3.8 bn; in Kenya from US$4bn to 
US$5.2bn; in Lesotho it grew from US$4 bn to US$5.5 bn; in Tanzania it grew 
from US$2.6bn to US$4.7bn; in Zimbabwe it dropped from US$6.8bn to US$3.2bn 
in the same period [2000-2008].

Production plummeted – our wheat crop last year was a paltry 10,000 tons – 
from over 300,000 tons 10 years ago – less than 5 percent of former times 
and the lowest crop since 1907.  Our maize crop this year will result in 
massive starvation for the tenth year in a row unless the world feeds us yet 
again.  Our health and education systems are shadows of what they were. 
Nearly a third of the population of our country has left – teachers, 
doctors, nurses, artisans, business men, farmers.

The rule by dictatorial law continues and so long as it does – so long as 
there are not enough people prepared to risk going upstream to try to change 
that, the suffering will continue.

I wish to show you a disturbing picture of Joshua Bakacheza.

Those of you that saw the film Mugabe and the White African will remember 
Mike Campbell patching up a group of people in his dining room who had been 
stoned by militia and shot at by police.  One of them was Joshua.  Two 
months later Joshua was abducted with another activist by 16 state security 
agents with AK 47s while he was helping the widow and children of another 
murdered activist move house.

After 3 weeks he was eventually found on a farm taken by an army colonel. 
He had been tortured and then shot and left in the bush.  I show you this 
picture not because it is a picture just of what was but because it is a 
picture of what is to come if good men and good women do nothing.

Like Joshua, Mike was a man who went upstream.  He stood for the rule of law 
and property rights and ultimately he died for what he stood for.  His death 
was not in vain though.  Today we honour what he has done in taking a 
dictator to court on fundamental justice issues – and winning; and we want 
to build on the foundations he has laid.  In that vein the African 
Commission on Human and People’s Rights – as an arm of the African Union – 
last week took the unprecedented step of registering our case regarding 14 
African Governments disbanding the SADC Tribunal, and breaking the SADC 
Treaty and international law without any consultation with the people of 
Southern Africa.

So today we treasure what Mike held dear and we want to take responsibility 
for those things and help regenerate the rule of law and respect for human 
rights in our land.  We need men and women of courage – a courage that 
overcomes the fear of evil – a courage that is underpinned by the values and 
the faith encapsulated in what God wrote on the two tablets of stone – a 
courage to stand for was written, written now on our hearts in love.

Today we say: “For the sake of the next generation of suffering children 
that will otherwise come down the river – by God’s grace we too will go 
upstream – either in person or as supporters – and thereby stand boldly in 
the way of dictatorship and poverty with the rod of justice and truth in our 

I thank you all.

Ben Freeth, MBE
Executive Director
The Mike Campbell Foundation

Contact details
E-mail:  [email protected]
Mobile:  +263 773 929 138 (Zimbabwe)

Award-winning documentary film:  “Mugabe and the White African”


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