Zimbabwean Filmmaker Finds Shelter in Winnipeg

Zimbabwean Filmmaker Finds Shelter in Winnipeg
Dec. 23, 2011

If you hear Zimbabwe filmmaker Gertrude Hambira’s story of death threats, going into hiding and fleeing for one’s life, you might assume that she was a Hollywood director playing with conventional plot devises.

But in reality, this has been the documentary filmmaker’s life for the past two years as she has been wanted dead or alive by the Zimbabwean government. Luckily, this is a story with a happy ending, as Hambira and her entire family have now successfully immigrated into Canada, and are sharing their first Christmas together in years in Winnipeg’s Charleswood neighbourhood.

The story begins in 2009, when Hambira decided to produce the documentary House of Justice, exposing the brutally violent land reform tactics led by President Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwean government. She was then serving as the first female to be elected secretary general of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe.

The half-hour documentary is a stunning first hand account of the cruel and completely unethical behaviour of the Mugabe government in repossessing land from mainly white land owners and giving it to government ministers and supporters. Many of these farmers and employees, both black and white, were beaten mercilessly, shot at and in many cases murdered.

The film also exposes the Southern African Development Community – a kind of supreme court for the region – as a kangaroo court where many of the evicted farmers have been tried without legal representation nor the ability to bring forward their own witnesses.

Hambira held a screening of the film for government officials, hoping that the sobering images would help sway their opinion and actions on Zimbabwean land reform. Instead the government officials accused her of treason and said that she would have to die for compromising the nation’s image.

The next day the police attempted to ambush Hambira at her office, but she was tipped off of what was awaiting her at work and quickly went into hiding. Eventually Hambira would flee Zimbabwe by land to South Africa, and then eventually came to Canada where her daughter was studying at the University of Manitoba.

The Charleswood Rotary Club is largely to thank for helping the entire family get to Canada, and one member is even letting the family stay in a house he originally bought to run a business out of.

For more on this story, check out the Winnipeg Free Press article by Carol Sanders below, or watch Hambira’s documentary House of Justice.

-Aaron Zeghers

From The Winnipeg Free Press
Originally Published Dec. 22, 2011

A human rights hero’s life-altering move
Peaceful Christmas in Winnipeg after chilling death-sentence escape

An exiled labour leader who fought for the rights of more than a million farm workers in chaotic Zimbabwe has been living quietly in Winnipeg for almost a year.

Now that she has her three youngest children safely out of the country and with her, Gertrude Hambira can talk about it.
A death warrant was issued for her after she produced a documentary exposing the violence and torture involved in President Robert Mugabe’s land reforms.

She picked up her son George, then 5, from school one day and fled Zimbabwe for her life the next.

“I was driving from work with little George when I learned the office is under siege,” she said.

Hambira, the first woman to run the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe, produced the documentary House of Justice with evidence of the beatings and torture of farm workers and owners by government thugs. She invited government officials and community leaders to see it. They didn’t see it as constructive criticism but treason, she said.

“You tarnished the image of the country. You need to die,” one high-ranking government official told her, she recalled. He was ready to make good on that threat a day later when Hambira avoided an ambush at the union office and got away, she said.

“Luckily I had my passport in my handbag.”

Someone picked up little George and she went into hiding, going to a safe house before getting out of the country overland through Zambia to South Africa.

She and her husband, George, an electrician, got refugee status in Canada, where her oldest daughter was completing a masters degree at the University of Manitoba. The three youngest children, including George, who’s now 7, Kuda, 15, and Shamiso, 18, were taken care of by family and friends. The Rotary Club of Charleswood rallied behind the family to bring the kids here last month. The family lives in Charleswood and the kids are thriving in school.

It’s almost surreal for Hambira, sitting next to the Christmas tree in their quiet living room.

After challenging white land owners and winning better pay and working conditions for farm workers, Hambira faced an even bigger battle with the Mugabe government.

“I went from the frying pan to the fire.”

The government ordered land reforms that kicked out the white owners and the black workers. The farms went out of production. The land was given to government ministers and supporters and the economy of Zimbabwe, once the biggest food producer in Africa, collapsed. When the Southern African Development Community — a kind of supreme court for the region — ruled the land reforms were unjust and overturned them, the Mugabe regime ignored it. Farmers and workers returning to the land were beaten and run off the property.

Hambira thinks she’ll never be able to return to Zimbabwe and wants the world to know what is happening there. More than 1.4 million agricultural workers lost their homes and livelihoods, said Hambira, who’s been invited to speak around the world.
She hopes the Canadian Museum for Human Rights can one day help to educate people, and she wants to be part of it.
“I’ve never stopped advocating on behalf of workers in my country.”

Who is Gertrude Hambira?

The 50-year-old began work as a factory machinist at 19, a year after Zimbabwe’s 1980 independence from Britain.

In 1987, she became a trade union educator with the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions.

In 2000, elected the first woman secretary general of the General Agriculture and Plantation Workers’ Union of Zimbabwe.

She belonged to the Coalition Against Child Labour in Zimbabwe to prevent the exploitation of children as workers and another group trying to educate people about HIV/AIDS.

In 2009, she produced the documentary House of Justice and was exiled from Zimbabwe. See http://vimeo.com/24309617.

In 2010, she moved to Winnipeg and still advocates for human rights.

-Carol Sanders

~ by cineflyer on December 24, 2011.

4 Responses to “Zimbabwean Filmmaker Finds Shelter in Winnipeg”

  1. […] called — from Galaxy magazine in the 1950s.Here’s a touching story from Cineflyer about exiled Zimbabwe filmmaker Gertrude Hambira finding shelter in Winnipeg.Film Studies for Free gives its list of best film studies websites of 2011.The online magazine […]

  2. […] Zimbabwean Filmmaker Finds Shelter In Winnipeg […]

  3. I really like your work. do you ever shoot B&W?

  4. […] Here’s a touching story from Cineflyer about exiled Zimbabwe filmmaker Gertrude Hambira finding shelter in Winnipeg. […]

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