Freeth, 40, said on Wednesday he was surprised to be contacted by the British ambassador to Zimbabwe, Mark Canning, and told of the award.
“It is quite an honour. I don’t know what it means exactly. It has taken me by complete surprise, but it is tangible recognition of the farming community’s efforts during this past turbulent and traumatic decade. “We hope it will create a new, positive platform from which our country can move forward,” he said.
Freeth’s name appears on the British government’s diplomatic service and overseas list, published as part of the queen’s birthday honours for this year.
The citation reads: “Benjamin John Freeth: for services to the farming community in Zimbabwe.”
Freeth, who heads the Southern African Development Community’s Tribunal Rights Watch group, is one of 44 people worldwide who will be invited to Buckingham Palace in London to receive an MBE from the queen.
Freeth’s campaign against the invasion of commercial farms began after the Zimbabwean government tried to seize the Mount Carmel farm in Mashonaland West in 2001.
The farm was operated by Freeth, his father-in-law Mike Campbell, and Campbell’s son Bruce. The family tried to fight off the invaders, but the harassment continued.
In October 2007, Campbell and Freeth took their case to the SADC tribunal in Namibia, and were granted an interim relief order barring the government from evicting them or interfering with farming operations, and declaring that the government’s land reform programme was unlawful and discriminatory.
However, the order was ignored, and the government continued to harass the family. In June 2008, Freeth was abducted and tortured.
Last year, their farmhouse was burnt down and Freeth was forced to relocate to Harare. Since then, his organisation has lodged another application with the SADC tribunal, asking it to consider measures to terminate or suspend Zimbabwe’s membership of SADC. The basis of the application is that the government remains in contempt of the tribunal by allowing ongoing invasions and arrests, prosecutions and imprisonment of farmers, despite the 2008 order.
“It has been tough to survive. My wife and some farmworkers do embroidery, but it is difficult to make an income. The farm is standing derelict now. It is sad in a country that desperately needs to create employment.”
The award was “tremendous encouragement” and motivated him to continue their work, Freeth added. The Mercury