This is what happens when good men do nothing

Text of speech by Ben Freeth at launch of Mike Campbell Foundation, March 14 2012

Text of the address by Ben Freeth at the launch of the Michael Campbell Foundation, Royal Geographical Society, London, March 14 2012

Dictatorship in Zimbabwe: What stands in its way?

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 great.

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 them.

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 Zimbabwe.

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 river.

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:

Joshua Bakacheza

Movement for Democratic Change driver for Mashonaland West - 5 July 2008

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 hands."   

I thank you all.

Ben Freeth, MBE
Executive Director
The Mike Campbell Foundation

Source: The Zimbabwean.

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