Words: Jamie Joseph

It all came to a dramatic halt about ten minutes into Robyn Paterson’s talk at TEDxAuckland on Saturday 3 August. I was backstage sitting next to one of our crew that was managing the cameras and screens when it happened. She turned her back to the audience and whispered, “I’m sorry” as she tried to compose herself. Suddenly I felt wave after wave of suppressed emotion engulf me. I put my head down, and tears began to fall.

For Robyn’s story is my story, as it is thousands of others. We are part of the diaspora. We were both born in Zimbabwe, and now we live in New Zealand, and it is from these safe shores that we have to witness people we love hurt and murdered under the dictatorship of President Robert Mugabe.

But the immigrant guilt of having left behind her best friend, a young black girl from the Ndebele tribe, was something Robyn could no longer live with, and in 2011 the girl that became a film director picked up her camera and embarked on a risky ground search across Zimbabwe.

“Almost any immigrant will tell you the importance of a friendship increases dramatically when you leave a country,” says Robyn in her TED talk. “Friends back home become not only your friend, but a representation of who you are, and all the things you left behind.”

Robyn decided to film her risky journey in the hope that through the documentary Finding Mercy she could offer a better understanding to the realities of the situation in Zimbabwe – because what you see in the media is not a true representation of how it really is.

“Out here in the western world we hear a lot about white farmers. That actually suits Mugabe,” Robyn explains in her talk. “He encourages it because it makes it appear that all he is doing is addressing colonial wrongs. There are colonial wrongs to be addressed, but want we don’t hear about are the black farmers whose land has also been taken, or the farm workers whose lives and livelihoods are lost.”

Robyn did manage to compose herself long enough to finish her talk, and it ended with a standing ovation.

Jamie Joseph is a writer and an environmental activist. She will be returning to her African homeland in October to join the war on poaching. Follow her journey @ savingthewild.com – every voice counts.