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They beat him, but not into submission

COLUMN ONE

A white Zimbabwean defied orders to give up his farm. Soon Mugabe's men came, full of menace.

August 07, 2008|Robyn Dixon | Times Staff Writer

CHEGUTU, ZIMBABWE — The ancient chestnut horse, Ginger, stands on the veranda near the farmhouse door, waiting for a treat. But the old farmer and his wife do not come.

The farm dogs leap like dancers, extravagantly pleased to have visitors. The cats bask in the sun. Four red hens peck busily in the flower beds. The garden is alive with bird chatter. But the house stands silent and empty.

No one has lived here since late June, when Mike Campbell, 74, and his wife, Angela, were attacked by militants associated with Zimbabwe's ruling party, which targeted white farmers as well as opposition supporters in the recent election violence.

The beating was so brutal that Campbell's friends didn't recognize photographs taken of him after the nine-hour ordeal. Angela, 67, says her faith sustained her when the men wanted to cut off her fingers because her rings had gotten stuck.

Campbell, one of the few white farmers left in Zimbabwe, had got plenty of government warnings to vacate his spread, which he had named Mount Carmel. He ignored all of them.

He was a feisty, gruff fellow with the determined vigor of someone convinced that he was right and with a hide as tough as a rhino's. If he had a soft side, he kept it well-hidden.

He approached life like a warrior, battling thieves who tried to steal mangoes and the government minister, Nathan Shamuyayira, who wanted to seize the farm where he and Angela had lived for nearly 35 years.

But even tough men can get broken. In early July, he was lying on a bed with four ribs, a collarbone and a foot broken, a dislocated finger and bruises all over his body, including a huge purple one covering the side of his head.

His voice quavered. Occasionally he lost a phrase or an idea and had to pause, racking his brain. Answering questions exhausted him.

He had survived. But suddenly, he seemed like an old man.

"Tough. Jeepers, he's tough," said Campbell's son, Bruce, 42, who farms with him. Remembering the night of the attack, he says, "I can't believe he survived. I thought my old man was going to die when I picked him up."

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The ruling ZANU-PF, shocked by its poor result in the March elections, has accused the opposition Movement for Democratic Change of planning to return land to white farmers, reversing "the fruits of the liberation struggle" against the white regime of Ian Smith in the 1970s.

In the subsequent campaign for the presidential runoff, war veterans and ZANU-PF militias invaded farms, beat or evicted white families and their black workers and looted houses. The ruling party set up hundreds of militia bases from which to attack opposition activists and supporters.

Campbell believed the militias might burn down his house. But if he was afraid, he certainly wouldn't show it. He packed up his silver and china and a beloved antique military chest and sent them away.

He and Angela stayed put.

"Where do you go?" he said in Harare, the capital, where he was recuperating. "The best thing is just to stay. I don't think we would ever have given up."

On June 28, the last Sunday of the month, the day Robert Mugabe had himself inaugurated to another term as president after a one-man presidential runoff, the couple went to church and a family lunch in Chegutu. It was eerily quiet in town.

When they returned home at midafternoon, the two-way radio inside crackled urgently. Bruce had news that ZANU-PF militias had badly beaten an old man on a neighboring farm. The radio sputtered and died before he could warn them that the gang had declared it was on its way to Mount Carmel.

Less than 10 minutes later, Angela heard a shrieking yelp from one of her pointers as it was clubbed. Dozens of men had driven into the yard. They were young, in their teens and early 20s, and carrying shotguns and rifles stolen from a nearby farm. They leapt from a pickup also taken from the farm. Others poured from the back of a white minibus -- about 30 in all.

"They even had spears and sticks," she says. "Spears. Can you believe it?"

The men swarmed around them. Campbell was knocked unconscious almost immediately, beaten on the head. A tall, thin gunman smashed Angela's arm, shattering the bone above her elbow. The two were trussed up tightly.

When the radio died, Bruce had frantically phoned Ben Freeth, the Campbells' son-in-law, who lives in the homestead next to Mount Carmel. Freeth raced to the Campbells' house, where he was captured and beaten on the head with a rifle butt, causing a 5-inch fracture in his skull.

Bruce, 10 minutes away, realized there was little point in going to the police. He knew they had been ordered to stay out of election violence. So he was on his own. He had a pistol, against a mob he knew was heavily armed.

He had one goal -- to save his parents. But how?

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