Last Night's TV - True Stories: Mugabe and the White African, More 4; The Naked Office, Virgin1
Nothing's in black and white here
Wednesday 19 May 2010
Not a man hugely worried about his international reputation, Robert Mugabe. Virtually everything he's done in office would tell you that, but just in case there were any viewers out there in two minds about his indifference to world opinion, the makers of
True Stories: Mugabe and the White African began with a little clip from one of his more revealing speeches. "Justice for his people... Sovereignty for his people," intoned that familiar voice. "If that is Hitler, right? Then let me be a Hitler tenfold." If Mugabe is Hitler, though, what does that make Zimbabwe's embattled white farmers? There is one obvious answer and you were nudged towards it about halfway through Andrew Thompson and Lucy Bailey's disturbing film as the camera briefly focused on a headline on an opposition Zimbabwean newspaper: "We Are Like Jews During the Nazi Era", it read.
Well... yes. I can see that it must look like that. Blamed for all the country's failings, subject to random attacks by gangs of thugs who know that the local police will turn a blind eye, likely to have their property confiscated without compensation. There are no shortage of parallels. You might want to point out, though, that the comparison would only be exact if the Jews had, prior to Hitler's arrival, run a regime in which virtually every German was a second-class citizen. Mugabe's rhetoric of land reclamation is undoubtedly vicious and dishonest. It undoubtedly disguises brutality and theft as national justice. But it's set in a context of past white injustice that can't simply be ignored. That was a "but" that Mugabe and the White African was not much concerned with. We learned that it was as long ago as 1974 that Mike Campbell arrived on Mount Carmel Farm, but not that in that same year a Rhodesian election was held under conditions that made it impossible for the black majority to play any real part in how their country was run.
It's a pity that those elements of the past weren't acknowledged because they wouldn't have weakened the story that Thompson and Bailey had to tell or, I think, diminished our sympathy for the people at its centre – Campbell and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth, whose courage in the face of state intimidation was astonishing and admirable. Determined to fight against threatened confiscation within the law of the land, they had taken their case to an international court in Namibia, and appeared to have a touching faith in its ability to inhibit Mugabe's thugs. As they waited through countless postponements and delays for the final verdict, they, and their black workers, had to endure constant harassment. The man who'd been promised their farm, son of a Zanu PF minister, turned up to harangue them in person, insisting that there was no place for whites in Zimbabwe and that the land would be "redistributed to the black poor majority". In fact, as the lawyers' research had proved, the land invariably goes to party loyalists and Mugabe cronies. And then, when it became clear that they wouldn't back down, both the men and Campbell's elderly wife were abducted and tortured. "The fact that they've come out and hammered us has made us more determined to continue with the case," said Freeth, his swollen eyes the colour of a ripe aubergine. Their courage and resilience was finally rewarded in the Namibian courtroom with a ruling that implicitly overturned many other farm seizures. It was not, sadly, rewarded in Zimbabwe, where their farm was burned to the ground last year while the family was out at church.
Far more trivial acts of courage were called for in The Naked Office, in which Virgin1 bafflingly attempts to extend an idea that only just managed to sustain a one-off pilot into an entire six-part series. The notion is that getting your kit off in the workplace can be an empowering tool of management. In the pilot, the business guru who was peddling this fatuous but telegenic idea was called David Taylor ("Britain's leading big-business psychologist"), but he seemed to have decided that he didn't want too close an association with dangling executive bits, so someone called Seven Suphi ("top high-performance coach and behavioural change specialist") took over the task of spouting razor-commercial psychobabble: "I help people be the best that they can be," she said, "If these people can get naked in front of each other as a group, what can't they do in the future?"
Look each other in the face again, perhaps? Last night's test case was an organic vegetables box scheme in Wigan, where a certain amount of metaphorical dick-measuring on the shop floor was impeding expansion. As in the original pilot, the team first had to perform a diagnostic challenge – in this case, jointly lowering a bamboo stick to the floor without dropping it. A manager with any nous would have spotted at once that this task could readily be delegated to one person, while the rest could do something a bit more useful. But naturally, having signed up for the scheme, everybody present took it with great earnestness, waffling on about how they got down to basics and stripped away the superficial barriers and grew in confidence and so forth, even though most of them finally opted to keep their underwear on or coyly hide their man bags behind a strategically placed man bag. I think a more accurate way of summing it up would be to say that it successfully got all the bollocks out in the open.
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