The Campbell Case - single page summary

The SADC Tribunal Court Case

Mike Campbell (Pvt) Ltd et al v. Republic of Zimbabwe


Mike Campbell (Pvt) Ltd et al. v. Republic of Zimbabwe is a landmark test case decided by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Tribunal, based in Windhoek, Namibia. The Tribunal held that the Zimbabwean government violated the organisation's treaty by denying access to the courts and engaging in racial discrimination in the confiscation of land in the “land reform” program in Zimbabwe.


The government-orchestrated land invasions began in February 2000, immediately after President Mugabe, who had become increasingly unpopular, lost a referendum on a new constitution which would further entrench his presidential powers.  So-called "war veterans" were ferried onto commercial farms, often in government vehicles, to beat up and force off the land the owners, farm workers and their families. This caused a total breakdown of law and order, resulting in widespread intimidation, theft, violence, murder, arson and internal displacement. Many highly productive farming enterprises were wantonly destroyed, with disastrous consequences for the agri-based economy.  In July 2000, the government formally announced a “fast track” resettlement programme, stating it would acquire more than 3 000 of the 4 500 commercial farms for redistribution.

Although Mugabe claimed this was a “land reform” programme designed to hand white-owned farmland to poor, landless black Zimbabweans, the main beneficiaries have been the elite – Politburo members and cabinet ministers, security force officers, their family members and even judges.

Mike Campbell, a commercial farmer, purchased Mount Carmel farm in the Chegutu district in 1974.  It was transferred to Mike Campbell (Pvt) Ltd in 1999 after being given a certificate of no present interest. (Every farm bought after 1980 had to be offered to the government first for land redistribution and, if they did not wish to purchase it, the deeds were stamped "No Government Interest").  From 22 July 2001, various attempts were made by the government to seize Mount Carmel, but these were initially thwarted by the High Court of Zimbabwe.   After three more preliminary notices to take the farm were published in 2004, Campbell applied to the Courts in 2005 on constitutional grounds and had a hearing in the Supreme Court in April 2007.

On 1 October 2007 the Zimbabwe Government started prosecuting Campbell for the unique offence of farming and living in his own home.  Consequently, on 11 October, Campbell instituted a case with the SADC Tribunal to challenge government acquisition of agricultural land on the basis that it was discriminatory; that it infringed their right to property and a proper legal process in its acquisition; and that fair compensation should be paid.

On 13 December 2007, the Tribunal, in its first decision since it became functional in April 2007, ruled in favour of Mike Campbell and an interim relief order was granted protecting Campbell and his workers.

On 28 March 2008, 77 additional Zimbabwean commercial farmers were granted leave by the Tribunal to intervene.  Interim relief similar to that given to Mike Campbell on 13 December 2007 was granted to 74 of the farmers since three were no longer residing on their farms. 

On 29 June 2008, Mike Campbell, his wife Angela and son-in-law Ben Freeth, who jointly farmed Mount Carmel, were abducted, brutally assaulted by “war veterans” and militia, and forced at gunpoint to sign a piece of paper stating they would withdraw from the main SADC Tribunal court case due to be argued the following month. 

On 28 November 2008, the Tribunal ruled that the 78 farmers facing eviction could keep their farms because Zimbabwe’s land reform programme undermined the rule of law.  In response, the government said it would not recognize the SADC Tribunal and relentless victimisation of the farmers has continued.  During 2009, the two homesteads on Mount Carmel were destroyed by fire, finally forcing Campbell, Freeth and many of their workers off the farm.  Freeth continues to campaign actively for a return to the rule of law in Zimbabwe.  The Zimbabwe Government was held by the Tribunal to have been in contempt of its ruling in both 2009 and 2010.