Connect to share and comment

Re-jailing of Roy Bennett in Zimbabwe is an outrage

The latest outrage from Zimbabwe is that Roy Bennett, a key aide to Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has been thrown back in jail on spurious charges.

The re-jailing of Bennett highlights how Mugabe still holds the power to jail and persecute his critics. Mugabe's actions jeopardize the viability of the power-sharing government, according to many analysts in Harare.

Bennett, 52, is nominated to be Deputy Minister of Agriculture in the power-sharing government but President Robert Mugabe has refused to swear him into office, saying he must be cleared of terrorism charges. Bennett’s trial is scheduled to start on Oct. 19.

Bennett languished in jail for five weeks in February and March until a judge finally granted him bail. The terrorism charges are widely regarded as bogus. The other person who was charged with Bennett for the alleged plot against the government was freed two years ago when a judge dismissed the case as without merit. The man cleared of those charged is now Minister of Home Affairs, in charge of the police.

The harassment of Bennett, one of the most ardent and dedicated supporters of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) — which has for years has been in opposition to Mugabe's party, but is now the junior partner of the power-sharing government — undermines the entire project of the power-sharing government. 

“It makes a mockery of Mugabe’s claims that rule of law is respected,” said a Zimbabwean editor, who requested anonymity. “It shows that justice remains selective and no person and no property is safe. Mugabe is also showing that Tsvangirai remains powerless to change this.”

All this shows the wisdom of the United States and the European Union in withholding support from the power-sharing government in Harare, saying that they must see irreversible progress toward restoration of the rule of law.

Bennett, a former coffee farmer is fluent in Shona and is wildly popular with black supporters of Tsvangirai and the MDC. They call the burly Bennett "Pachedu," which in Shona means "one of us." The popularity of a former white farmer infuriates Mugabe. Bennett was elected a member of parliament in 2000 and later Mugabe’s war vets seized his farm and killed one of his farm workers. His wife, Heather, was held captive and was roughed up by the war vets and later had a miscarriage.

Bennett was taunted in parliament in 2004 and in an argument he shoved one of Mugabe’s cabinet ministers. For that, parliament, which was then controlled by Mugabe's Zanu-PF party,  convicted Bennett of assault and sent him to jail for 8 months.

After his jailing early this year, Bennett testified that he saw prisoners die of starvation and abuse. He said he would always campaign for better treatment of Zimbabwe’s prisoners. Now he is back in jail again.

Here is a clip about Bennett when he was arrested back in February.