Sunday, February 22, 2009

In jail, you see what 'Mugabe has done'

Roy Bennett, treasurer of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), missed getting sworn in as the country's deputy agriculture minister this week. He was spending his seventh day in jail on terrorism and sabotage charges.

Previous post; Riot in Zim over Roy Bennett

It is not the first time the burly 51-year-old former farmer has been incarcerated. He spent eight months of hard labour in Zimbabwe's prison system four years ago, after he was convicted by a parliamentary disciplinary committee of contempt for a shoving match with Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa.

During a debate, Mr. Chinamasa had called Mr. Bennett's ancestors "thieves and murderers" and taunted the former coffee grower, saying he would never see his family farm, Charleswood Estate, again.

The farm had been seized three years earlier by a gang of government-sponsored "war veterans" who murdered two of Mr. Bennett's farm workers, manhandled his pregnant wife and held her hostage-- she later miscarried -- and looted and destroyed his home.

Over the next two years, while Mr. Bennett tried to regain control of his farm through Zimbabwe's courts, the estate was invaded seven times, farm workers were beaten and tortured and three young female farm workers were gang raped.

Mr. Bennett reacted to Mr. Chinamasa's taunts by rushing across the floor of Zimbabwe's Parliament and shoving the Justice Minister to the ground.

That gave Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's party, the Zimbabwean African National Union-Patriotic Front, the opportunity it needed to drag Mr. Bennett before a ZANU-PF-dominated parliamentary hearing which stripped him of his seat in Parliament and jailed him.

If Mr. Bennett had been tried in a criminal court, he probably would have rated a $15 fine or a conditional discharge.

But the fluent Shona-speaker has long been a thorn in Mr. Mugabe's side. As a leader of the opposition, he was repeatedly re-elected to parliament with large majorities.

When he finished his prison term, he toured the world, denouncing Mr. Mugabe and comparing Zimbabwe's prisons to the country in general.

"In prison you really see the full effect of what Mugabe has done," he said in Toronto in 2005.

"Virtually every prisoner is in for petty crimes -- the theft of a chicken, theft of a goat, theft of maize [corn] -- all are survival things," he said. "They're just trying to live. They are all young, vibrant people with absolutely no hope."

When Mr. Bennett returned to Zimbabwe, the police accused him of plotting to overthrow the government. Faced with the prospect of life in prison, he fled and sought and obtained political asylum in South Africa.

In the three years he was in exile, he served as the MDC's chief fund-raiser and spokesman, and constantly chided Mr. Mugabe for corruption and presiding over the destruction of Zimbabwe.

The power-sharing deal that finally brought the MDC into government last week, making MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai Zimbabwe's new Prime Minister, was supposed to open the country to new opportunities. But it is rapidly becoming apparent little has changed and Mr. Mugabe has no intention of sharing power in a meaningful way.

Mr. Bennett flew back to Harare, ready to be sworn in as a deputy minister, only to find himself thrown into jail for an already discredited accusation. Then Mr. Mugabe showed up at the initial Cabinet swearing-in with a long list of previously unannounced Cabinet appointments for his ZANUPF officials.

By the time he finished yesterday, Mr. Mugabe had sworn in 61 Cabinet ministers -- from a parliament with only 210 MPs.

The bloated Cabinet, with its 33 full ministers, 20 deputy ministers and eight ministers of state, has 15 more members than Zimbabwe's constitution authorizes and is stuffed with former ZANU-PF officials, including Mr. Chinamasa, who remains Justice Minister.

Mr. Bennett did not make the cut. He is being held in prison, pending a bail hearing next month.

His wife, Heather, says her husband was offered a chance to have the charges against him and 30 other jailed MDC activists dismissed, provided the MDC agreed to an amnesty deal that would protect all ZANU-PF officials from any prosecutions for their entire 29 years in power.

In the meantime, Mr. Tsvangirai has stood by helplessly, demanding Mr. Bennett's release, while complaining the arrest is an attempt by hard-liners in Mr. Mugabe's party to derail the unity government by provoking the MDC to quit the unity government.

But nothing seems to faze Mr. Mugabe or his supporters.

Today, Mr. Mugabe turns 85 and ZANU-PF members are planning to stage a US$250,000 birthday party in his honour next Saturday.

The celebration has become an annual event in spite of a massive economic and humanitarian crisis that has left half of all Zimbabweans dependent on foreign food aid.

The country is also in the throes of Africa's worst cholera outbreak in 20 years, with the World Health Organization reporting yesterday more than 80,000 people have been infected, while 3,759 have died from the disease.

Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) issued a report this week that declared the cholera epidemic is only the most visible manifestation of a much broader crisis, since Zimbabwe also faces food shortages, malnutrition, collapsed infrastructure, political violence, 80% unemployment and inflation that is running at an estimated 89.7 sextillion per cent (that is 89.7 followed by 21 zeros).

Mr. Bennett made much the same point last year, when he led 200 Zimbabwe exiles to protest Mr. Mugabe's 84th birthday at a South African border crossing into Zimbabwe.

Then, the protesters wore T-shirts with the slogan, "The party's over." They also waved a banner reading, "Bob, you've had your cake, now beat it."

1 Opinion(s):

Anonymous said...

Motlanthe and Zuma in turn will keep Mugabe propped up like the ANC has always done. One brudda won't kick another brudda down, but they can pull reluctant old bruddas out of the cupboard to show up at ANC rallies.

The cadaverous Mandela must have been kidnapped. Graca was not with him, which means they might even have broken into his house and forced him into a car, plane etc. Mandela wasn't manhandled like this when he was still in prison, he was given a lot more respect and was a damn sight safer.

The ANC gangsters have no respect for anyone or anything. It was bad enough when Mbeki humiliated Mandela in front of the whole cabinet. Now the ANC humiliate Mandela by forcing him into their pathetic puppet show.