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Sunday, June 20, 2010

Chegutu Farmer Ben Freeth Receives Royal Honours

Alex Bell
16 June 2010

Chegutu farmer Ben Freeth, who has been campaigning for the rights and protection of commercial farmers in Zimbabwe, has received a prestigious royal award from the Queen of England, for his services to the farming community in Zimbabwe.

Freeth was named as one of 44 recipients of a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) as part of the Queen's birthday celebrations over the weekend. An MBE is a prestigious international honour and is a tangible recognition of Freeth's efforts to combat the injustices of Robert Mugabe's land-grab campaign.

Freeth and his father-in-law Mike Campbell, who co-own Mount Carmel farm in Chegutu, made history in 2008 when they took Mugabe's government to court over land 'reform'. The protracted legal battle within the human rights Tribunal of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) led to the pair and Campbell's wife Angela, being abducted, beaten and tortured. But despite their serious injuries, they continued with their campaign to seek a legal precedent to protect Zimbabwean commercial farmers from land invasion.

The SADC Tribunal eventually ruled in the farmers' favour in late 2008, declaring the land 'reform' programme unlawful. Mugabe's government was ordered to protect the farmers and their right to farm peacefully on their properties, an order that has been completely ignored. Freeth and Campbell have both been forced off their property after their homes were burnt down last year by land invaders. Land invasions and the persecution of farmers in the courts have also continued to intensify across the country.

Freeth told SW Radio Africa on Wednesday that the MBE award is a "great credit to all the people that have been so loyal and forthright in this fight for justice." He called the award an honour that gives encouragement to the ongoing fight against illegal land seizures, a campaign that has left millions of people destitute. Over the last decade of land 'reform', an estimated two million farm workers and their families have lost their jobs and homes, and the destruction of the agricultural sector means the country is almost entirely dependent on food aid.

"At last we are making some headway," Freeth said. "This is encouraging for all of the farming community and their efforts during this past turbulent and traumatic decade."

Freeth added that he hopes the award will help the ongoing fight for justice saying: "We hope it will create a new, positive platform from which our country can move forward."

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