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Transcript of the Andrew Marr Interview

Sunday 11th March 2012

On Sunday 11 March 2012 Andrew Marr interviewed Ben Freeth and Dr John Sentamu, Archbishop of York on BBC1's Sunday Am Programme.

This is the transcript of the interview:

ANDREW MARR: Ben Freeth was a white farmer from Zimbabwe who took the unprecedented step of bringing a legal case against Robert Mugabe and tried to prevent the seizure of his family farm.  He joins me now, with the Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu, who is also a long standing campaigner for human rights in Zimbabwe. Thank you both gentlemen for coming in. Let me start with your extraordinary story and the film that is being made about it. This was done by your family, a lot of it on handheld cameras at the time. You had a farm, which was in your wife’s family. How long had they been on this land?

BEN FREETH:  Well since the early 70s and then it was offered to the government in 1999 and given a certificate of note of public interest from the government. So we went ahead and carried on developing the farm and employing people. The story then went on…

ANDREW MARR: And it was something of a community, a lot of people living on, and around, depending on the farm. And then you got more and more aggressive and violent attacks. You took the case against Mugabe personally to a new court in Namibia.  Just explain to people what this court was.

BEN FREETH: Well this was a SADC tribunal which was an international human rights court set up as a result of the SADC treaty that was signed in 1992 but the court only came into being in 2007 and so we were the very first case into that human rights court in 2007.

ANDREW MARR: And eventually you won your case but at a terrible price. You were beaten nearly to death, your father in law did die from his wounds and the farm was then burned.

BEN FREETH:  Indeed. It was a pretty horrific time but I think the judgement we got – we won all the points in law but on the ground we didn’t win a thing.

ANDREW MARR: Let’s have a look at the clip from the documentary of the film where you confront the son of one of Mugabe’s Ministers who has arrived on your land
The clip of ‘Mugabe and the White African’ film is shown.

ANDREW MARR: This film may start to rekindle a bit more interest in this country in Zimbabwe. It seems that we can’t tolerate anything more than one set of headlines to do with dictators at any one time, doesn’t it Archbishop?

ARCHBISHOP: Yes.   The trouble is that Mugabe has been there for a very long time and there have been fits and starts but unfortunately there has been no sustained campaign particularly by the countries surrounding Zimbabwe.  They should have been sustaining this – otherwise he can get away with it. On Ben’s film ‘Mugabe and the White African’, Mugabe is caught on camera saying “Zimbabwe is mine and no one will take it away from me”. Now when you get a Head of State thinking that they possess a nation…

ANDREW MARR: A personal thiefdom

ARCHBISHOP: It’s terrible.

ANDREW MARR: And Zimbabwe is now very much in the hands of the other people who have come in, like the Chinese and so on…

BEN FREETH: You’ve got the Chinese all over and the mining concessions that they are at the moment grabbing are massive.

ANDREW MARR: What’s the sort of mood in Harare, you’re in Harare now, you’re no longer farming. But you’re still staying there despite what has happened to you. What’s the atmosphere like at the moment?

BEN FREETH: Well Harare is very different to what is happening in the rural areas. The rural areas are still very tense, no opposition for example are able to get there, the human rights abuses continue in those rural areas and there is massive starvation that is going to happen this year. Again. And we are going to rely on the international community to feed those people. And we are going to be going into an election where there is going to be severe violence, I believe, and at the moment the spotlight is off Zimbabwe but the state machinery is going forward to commit the atrocities that has done again and again.

ANDREW MARR: How important is it Archbishop for you to mobilise Church opinion inside Africa, particularly South Africa because including Desmond Tutu you’ve got some very respected Church voices there?

ARCHBISHOP: I think that those Church voices have been very vocal. The Archbishop of Cape Town, Archbishop Thabo who went to Zimbabwe to accompany the Archbishop of Canterbury, has been very vocal. And the Churches are now united in their great opposition. What I did when I saw Ben’s film with 500 people, I am a person of action, I said to everybody please tie a knot in a handkerchief and make sure the knot is tied tight and then you can untie it when Mugabe is gone. So this hangs around my chapel every morning, whenever I pray, I hope that this handkerchief will be untied soon.

ANDREW MARR: You famously cut up your dog collar, so this is the next step from having taken your dog collar off..

ARCHBISHOP: This is the next step.

ANDREW MARR: Can I possibly ask about a couple of local stories in this country? There is a story on front of the Sunday Telegraph this morning about the government is going to argue that Christians in this country do not have the right to wear crosses at work and that therefore people who are sacked or sent home for wearing crosses, that should be legal.  That’s the government’s line in front of the Human Rights Court – what do you think about that?

ARCHBISHOP: My view is that this is not the business of government. They are beginning to meddle in areas that they ought not to.  I think that they should leave that for the courts to make a judgement because Article 9 of the Human Rights Act says that people should be able to manifest their faith in teaching, in worship and in belief.  If somebody wanted to manifest their belief as a Christian and wants to wear a cross – after all at their baptism they are signed with the cross of Christ. If they decide to say I know that I am signed with it, but if I want to wear it, that’s a matter really for people and the article should allow it.  The government shouldn’t lower or raise the bar so high that in the end you could end up with it being unjust.

ANDREW MARR: Do you agree with the Catholic Church on gay marriage?

ARCHBISHOP:  This morning in particular I was listening to Archbishop Vincent Nichols; his tone of talking was very helpful. I happen to believe that to change the law in the end will be forcing an unjustified change for a nation.  That’s what one would be doing.

ANDREW MARR: So you think the tone is not quite right?

ARCHBISHOP: No. The tone was very right by Vincent Nichols…

ANDREW MARR: But not so great by perhaps Archbishop O’Brien before him…

ARCHBISHOP: I have a feeling that he used words that I don’t want to use, nor do other people want to use. Because in the end you ignore the issue why marriage as an institution is necessary, it is good for the stability of families and the stability of society.  Now that does not mean, because I’m one of those that support civil partnerships, because we removed what I thought was an unjust thing for people in same sex relationships that legally they were discriminated against, socially discriminated against and economically they were discriminated (against) and all of those have been removed in the Civil Partnership Act. And there is a difference. People these days don’t want to talk about difference. There is a difference between a civil partnership and marriage. That difference does not mean that one is better than the other – they are different.  Men and women are complementary to one another and therefore I would have thought that if the government is going to try to change the law – do you know how they have got to do it?  It is not simply saying that they are going to allow a civil partnership marriage to happen. They have a problem because the definition of marriage is in the 1662 Prayer Book and Canon B 30 of the Church of England which both are Acts of Parliament.

ANDREW MARR: So they’d have to change both acts, the articles within the Church of England?

ARCHBISHOP: Yes that’s true if they are going to have to change it but the only people that can do that are the General Synod of the Church of England.

ANDREW MARR: So what would be your message to the Prime Minister then?

ARCHBISHOP: I think my message would be to do probably what Charles Moore said in his lovely article in the Daily Telegraph yesterday which was “masterly inactivity”.

ANDREW MARR: Yes so don’t press ahead…

ARCHBISHOP: Don’t press ahead because the poll again today in the Sunday Telegraph said that 78% of the population do not believe that this is a priority to become law before 2015.

ANDREW MARR: I suppose the other side would say in the end it’s about a word – the word marriage. Gay people have enough to cope with in terms of discrimination of their relationships in society. Perhaps it would be the Christian thing for the Church to show some masterly inactivity on this subject?

ARCHBISHOP: I have a letter here, if you allow me a few minutes, that is from somebody – it says he is in a civil partnership and then he says at the end – “having read what you said I find myself agreeing with you. I believe that marriage is for a man and a woman and I personally feel no desire to emulate it – I accept my relationship is different. As long as I don’t suffer from any form of discrimination, legally, economically, socially – I am happy”.  This is somebody in a civil partnership, he is glad and he is worried that our changes may be different. So if in the end you are going to listen to all those different kind of voices – for me it is not a question of equality but of justice. Once matters are just, you have to say to yourself – do you really need to do this?

ANDREW MARR: Yes. Ben Freeth you’ll see that we have slightly lesser issues of justice to cope day to day in this country than you do. But you’re both going to be speaking at an event this week in London and for those people who want to do something on behalf of Zimbabwe?

BEN FREETH: Yes – the Royal Geographical Society on the 14th, in the evening.

ANDREW MARR: I’m sure a lot of people will want to go along in support of that. But for now – Thank you to you both very much indeed.

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