Ben Freeth, the Mike Campbell Foundation’s executive director, faces daunting challenges as he ventures through the vast emptiness of Namibia accompanied by an intrepid mule called “Nikao”, which means “To Overcome” in Greek.
Ben has embarked on this epic two-stage journey through western Zimbabwe and now Namibia to raise awareness of a travesty of justice in Zimbabwe and the subsequent fallout for the entire southern African region. This was the closure of the regional court of justice, the Southern African Development Community’s SADC Tribunal, in 2012.
The silencing of the Tribunal was spearheaded by Zimbabwe’s former president, Robert Mugabe, after he lost various court cases against his government, notably the landmark Campbell Case (Mike Campbell (Pvt) Ltd and Others v Republic of Zimbabwe) in November 2008. During the chaotic and often violent ‘land reform’ programme, commercial farmers were forced off their farms and around 350,000 permanent farm workers also lost their homes and livelihoods.
Two years later, in 2012, the SADC Tribunal awarded damages of nearly US$17 million to nine Zimbabwean victims of torture perpetrated by police and soldiers, known as the Gondo case.
The closure of the SADC Tribunal has denied the 389 million SADC citizens access to justice when the justice systems in their own countries have failed them.
Ben’s objective is to raise the profile of the need to have the SADC Tribunal reopened and to publicly deliver a letter to the SADC Tribunal office in Windhoek, the Namibian capital, as well as to the SADC Secretariat.
“A further option is to initiate a court application to compel the SADC Secretariat to reappoint the SADC Tribunal judges,” he said. “Along the way, I hope to build a new wave of allies in support of justice for the region.”
The two “legs” of the journey
Map of Zimbabwe
Ben began his long ride for justice from the late Mike Campbell’s now derelict Mount Carmel farm near Chegutu in Zimbabwe on 28 November 2023, the fifteenth anniversary of Campbell’s SADC Tribunal judgment of 2008. Mike Campbell was Ben’s father-in-law and they embarked on their epic quest for justice together.
Ben Freeth and Mike Campbell inspecting Mount Carmel farm’s export mango plantation
“We couldn’t publicise this first leg of the journey for security reasons in case the paranoid government of President Mnangagwa ̶ who forced Mugabe to resign in the 2017 coup ̶ got wind of it,” explained Ben.
An enduring bond formed between Tsedeq and me
“The route that my horse, Tsedeq (which means “Justice and Righteousness” in Hebrew) and I took was across country, heading due west and unsupported, from Mount Carmel farm all the way past Victoria Falls in north western Zimbabwe to the Kazungula border post,” said Ben.
This first section of Ben’s epic journey covered nearly 800km (500 miles) through heat and drought and difficult terrain. “It was a humbling and even emotional experience riding and walking alone among the remote rural Zimbabwean people and experiencing their kindness, despite their hardships and grinding poverty.
“All were keen to help me find water and grazing for Tsedeq,” said Ben.
Camping out in the bush, under a night sky illuminated with stars
“The reflection that was most prominent in my mind was ‘what is valuable?’ And the journey answered those questions: we are reliant on ‘water’, ‘grass’ and, most of all, ‘love’.”
A welcome drink for Tsedeq
Still a gruelling 80kms (50 miles) to the Victoria Falls
Ben and Tsedeq reached their goal, the Kazungula border post, on 21 December, 24 days after their departure.
Ben estimates that the combined journey through Namibia will clock up around 4 million steps! As mentioned earlier, his first step began on Mount Carmel farm near Chegutu in Zimbabwe and the last step will end up outside the historic Turnhalle building which housed the SADC Tribunal in Windhoek.
The SADC Tribunal building in Windhoek, Namibia
Map of Namibia showing the Caprivi Strip
Ben set off from Ngoma Bridge in the western Caprivi Strip on 2 February 2024 with his mule, Nikao. He will be sending regular updates and photos which we will feature on the Mike Campbell website and on various social media platforms.
Whatsapp: +44 7539 070 122 – limited mobile phone signal in parts of Namibia
Mobile: +263 773 929 138 (Zimbabwe)
Ben Freeth is the executive director of the Mike Campbell Foundation and is based in Zimbabwe. The MCF is taking action to restore human rights, justice, the rule of law and property rights for all in Zimbabwe.