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  • Ben Freeth

Thoughts on my “Long Ride for Justice”


Across western Zimbabwe and the Caprivi Strip,

then southwest to Windhoek, Namibia,

the former seat of the regional court of justice, the SADC Tribunal


19 April 2024

 

A tale of three horses and a mule

This is a tale of four horses. Or rather, to be more exact, three horses and one mule. And it's also a tale of a long journey, both across Africa and also through time on a farm in Zimbabwe ̶ and in the aftermath of being on that farm.


The first horse that I rode was called Tsedeq. And the farm from which we rode together was called Mount Carmel Farm and it had been taken over. This farm was where I had built my house, where our children had grown up, and where my parents-in-law, Mike and Angela Campbell, had brought up their children. And suddenly we had the land invasions taking place, and we were no longer able to stay on the farm and all the animals had been killed, and all the crops stolen …. and all the 40,000 fruit trees had died through fire or neglect.

When I set out, I was only able to get to the fence of the farm, but my daughter, Anna, and I headed off with my horse, called Tsedeq, which means “justice and righteousness” in ancient Hebrew.


In the Bible story of Naboth and his vineyard being stolen, the word ‘Tsedeq’ is used. Naboth stood for justice and righteousness, and he was killed because the king decided he liked his land and wanted his vineyard, but Naboth said: “No”, he would not sell.

And it was somewhat similar in our case, except that the invaders didn't want to pay any money for Mike’s farm. They just came and took it. And all those investments were gone in a very short period of time, and all those workers were out of work, and all that production was lost.

Anna (left) with friends who gave us a memorable send-off from Mount Carmel farm


And so we rode for justice, and I rode on Tsedeq, which in a way was prophetic. We headed off on 28 November 2023, which was the 15th anniversary of the SADC Tribunal judgment of 2008 handed down in the Campbell case, which was the definitive farm test case.


The Southern African Development Community (SADC)’s Tribunal, its regional court of justice, was based in Windhoek in Namibia and so I had a very long way to ride on Tsedeq to get there. Although my daughter, Anna, came with me on the first day, she couldn’t continue after that because she got heat stroke as it was very hot and very dry because the rains had not yet broken. Our rains normally come early November but this time they failed, so we ended up with a situation that was incredibly hard, incredibly hot and incredibly dry. And we struggled, we really struggled going across western Zimbabwe because there was no grazing. And no water, or no standing water ̶ and there should have been.


So it was very humbling because I would just go and find a kraal ̶ a traditional African village ̶ and the rural people were so generous and kind. They would bring water for Tsedeq and me, even though that water had travelled on their heads, sometimes for very, very long distances. And they'd invite us in for food and to sleep there. It was so wonderful to experience the generosity and the kindness of total strangers along the way. And we walked for about 800 kilometres. I walked most of the way and did not ride because there was so little grazing and I didn't want to tire out my horse. And so we completed the 800 kilometres and Tsedeq ended up in very good shape ̶ I was very proud of that!


Finally, after being on a compass bearing going west all the way, we arrived at the Victoria Falls and then Kazungula just before Christmas on 21 December. Kazungula is on the border, very close to Namibia.

The Kazungula border post on the Zambezi river – where four countries meet


I was then advised by veterinary experts in Namibia not to go ahead with attempting to get all the veterinary controls sorted out to take Tsedeq across the border. They said it would be better to send him back home and they would find me a mule, which is what I had been looking for in the first place. However, our mules had been killed during the land invasions, so we sadly have virtually no mules left in Zimbabwe, and we don’t have many farm horses any longer either.


So Tsedeq is a rare horse because he was a farm horse and he had been rescued. I’m actually back in Zimbabwe and am looking at him right now. He's such a lovely little horse and he's well fed and happy, he's a great little guy. I became very attached to him during our adventures together and when he went back to Harare just before Christmas, I literally broke down in tears when it was time to say goodbye. I couldn't speak for over an hour because, even though I knew I would see him again, it was very hard to part with him. So it's wonderful to be reunited with Tsedeq again.


With my plans having to change, I picked up my borrowed mule from a property near to Windhoek and then drove all the way north with the horsebox to the eastern end of the Caprivi Strip with Dr Telané Greyling who is a Namibian zoologist, rider and equine expert.


Caprivi Strip: Nikao rolling after welcome rain


The mule, Marengo, was named after an important historical figure in Namibia, which was then the German colony of German South West Africa. Marengo was a fighter and chief leader in the insurrection against the German Empire. Although what I'm also doing is fighting, it’s not in a way which involves killing anyone! Nikao turned out to be a troubled mule, but I called him Nikao, which means to overcome in Greek. It’s used in the New Testament, and we're called as Christians to overcome. This means to overcome the things that are to come, but also to overcome the things that are happening in the world today.


During the entire period when our farms were taken in Zimbabwe, we had an incredible amount to try to overcome. We had to overcome lawlessness and terror – it wasn’t just fear, it was actual terror. We had to overcome the hatred and threats that were thrown at us, as well as the greed which involved President Mugabe allowing the farms to be parcelled out to cabinet members, members of Parliament, judges, senior policemen, senior army officers and so on.


There was such a lot of overcoming to be done. The sports brand Nike also used that word because when you're running a marathon, or any other major event, then you need to overcome. You need to overcome the tiredness, weariness and just wanting to give up.

Dr Telané Greyling grazing Nikao along the Caprivi Strip / Zambezi Region


Nikao and I had a really amazing journey together over 500 kilometres or so, and Dr Telané Greyling was still with us at the time. She’s a remarkable lady, so good with animals and with such a big heart. She and I struggled with Nikao because he managed to escape three times. He was incredibly difficult to hold when he decided he was going to escape. It wasn’t so much that he was wild, but because he didn’t have any equine friends with him. This was hard because, when he ran, it was like trying to catch a zebra, a wild, wild zebra! Sometimes he would be totally tame, but then he would become totally wild, so Nikao also has a lot of overcoming to do!


Eventually, on the last occasion that he ran away, having pulled Telané over, she said: “I think I’ll go back and get you a horse.” So she did and she came back with a horse from some lovely people in Grootfontein, Chanté and Meghan Wise from Chahanic Stud and Safaris. They had a horse called Stardust who they were looking after, and I only realised later what Stardust means. I spoke to the owner on the last day before riding into Windhoek and she said that Stardust means “love and new beginnings”.


I thought that was a wonderful name for a horse, especially while lying out under the stars as we did each night. And this was exactly what I was experiencing: the love of others, wanting new beginnings, wanting a court that would stand for justice and would be there to protect and help people.

Getting to know Stardust


So I rode Stardust for a while and I was very, very fit by then, after covering probably around 1,300 kilometres, most of them on foot. Unfortunately Stardust was not as quite as fit as I was, so I walked with him, but by day five he was becoming quite slow and I could see that his hooves were getting a little sore and that he needed a rest.


Just then a farmer came along and began talking to me. He could see that I was struggling, so he pitched up at the farm where Stardust and I were staying the night and he and his father, Johan Luttig, asked if I wanted to borrow another horse. I said that would be wonderful.


So they very kindly brought a horse called Johnny, who is a horse in a million. He is strong and full of energy but he has a wonderful temperament at the same time, he’s just a very special horse. I get emotional even talking about him because I said goodbye to him not long ago. I asked Johan why he’s called Johnny and he said it was because of the film ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’, and Johnny's only got one eye. Johnny Depp was the main actor, so this horse is named after him. I found it amusing because Johnny is such an English name and he's an Afrikaans horse!


I bonded immediately with Johnny, he’s an amazing animal and is a handsome, strong horse with a short back, beautiful confirmation and a lovely temperament. We got on so well right from the beginning and literally within an hour, I was riding him without a bit. I didn’t need to put the bit back in his mouth all the way, even when we were riding with all the other horses into Windhoek. We had a real way with each other.


So I was very pleased to have the opportunity to ride Johnny, it was an exceptional, gracious gift. That first night, Johan asked if I wanted to carry on with him. “Do you like him,” he asked. And I said: “No, I love him.”


“I'll send the farrier then,” he said, and Sam literally came right away. It was a Saturday night and the full moon was about to rise, so it was a month or so ago. Sam was amazing! He and his sister came out to the farm and under the full moon Sam put new shoes on Johnny. This was an act of grace from Johan, Sam and his sister because they wouldn’t let me pay anything.


I’m overwhelmed by all these acts of grace. First of all, I was given Tsedeq, who was a rescue horse and I’d been looking for one to hire. Then I was lent Nikao by Tina Goldberg, who lives close to Windhoek, and after Nikao, Megan and Chanté Wise lent me Stardust, and after him came Johnny. And with Johnny, I rode all the way into Windhoek. And on the night before the final ride, I was thinking about these four horses ̶ or these three horses and a mule, and the significance of their names.


And then I thought, well, what does Johnny mean? And I should know because my middle name is John. And then it suddenly clicked, I was very slow! Johan and John are the same word, the same name. So I looked it up, and Johnny/Johan/Johannes is a Hebrew name and obviously in the Bible you have the Book of John's Gospel. And you've got the other books of John as well. John was one of the disciples of Jesus, and John means ‘God is gracious’.

With Johnny during a welcome rest break


And I experienced all this grace with all these amazing Namibian people, particularly in that last phase of the journey, just inviting me into their homes and knowing their hospitality. And then I thought, well, there's a symmetry to this journey, isn't there? We've got Tsedeq which is God's throne, and which is founded on justice and righteousness, so justice and righteousness is there right at the beginning, in the Old Testament. But then there's Nikao, which means ‘to overcome’, and then there's Stardust, which is love and new beginnings. And there's Jesus in there, isn't there? Love and new beginnings.


And then we get to Johnny, which means ‘God is gracious’, and of course we serve a God who is so gracious. And I reached the SADC Tribunal on ‘God is gracious’, and how amazing that was. And so it's an incredible story of Old and New Testament, and justice and righteousness, and overcoming, and grace and love. What an incredible period of time it was travelling along the 2,200 kilometers on those four animals and having so many exceptional experiences along the way.

Arriving at the SADC Tribunal building with Johnny


And so we now need to pray for justice and righteousness. We need to pray for grace. We need to pray that we all overcome, and that we understand the love and new beginnings that God has ordained for each one of us through Jesus Christ who has brought love and new beginnings. And through His death He's brought His grace, which none of us deserve.

To conclude this story of four horses – or three horses and a mule – I pray that God blesses each one of you listening to, or reading this podcast. May you ultimately know God's grace. My sincere thanks to all those who are part of this journey and part of this story, and in particular those who lent me Nikao, Stardust and Johnny. What wonderful people I have come across during this time and what an amazing journey it has been!

THE WAY FORWARD


I’ve been asked about how far we’ve progressed in achieving the aims of this “Long Ride for Justice”.


I think, like most things in life, it’s a process, not an event. The process of setting up a justice system for the 400 million people of southern Africa is a tough one in the face of the battleground we fight on.


What the “Long Ride for Justice” has achieved so far is to start making people aware of how a handful of people have closed down access to justice for hundreds of millions of SADC citizens; but at the same time how simple it is to reverse that process because those few people were insufficient to legally close the Tribunal.


What those nine (out of the then 15) SADC Heads of State did in signing the new Protocol on the Tribunal at the Victoria Falls on 18 August 2014 goes against the SADC Treaty and the guiding principles of the Treaty, which are human rights, the rule of law and democracy.


Of the nine presidents, two were taken to court in their own countries and the courts of South Africa and Tanzania overturned their signatures, so there were only seven out of the 15 SADC Heads of State who signed, and they needed a two-thirds majority.


The process of re-establishing the guiding principles of the SADC Treaty needs to continue. The “Long Ride” is simply a part of that process and we must continue along this journey until we reach our goal.


Ben

Ben Freeth

Whatsapp: +44 7539 070 122

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.



 

"What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly

with your God." Micah 6:8

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