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Bennett Promises Continued Struggle Against Mugabe

Opposition figure Roy Bennett told IWPR he had no plans to leave Zimbabwe, just before police put him on their wanted list in connection with an alleged coup plot.
Leading Zimbabwean opposition figure Roy Bennett spoke of his determination to continue the struggle against President Robert Mugabe’s regime in an exclusive interview he gave to IWPR shortly before going to ground last week.

Zimbabwean police have been looking for Bennett since early last week, when eight people including four policemen were arrested and charged with a plot to stage armed attacks on the Mugabe administration. An arms cache was allegedly found at the home of one of them.

The group are accused of plotting to kill Mugabe when he travelled to the eastern town of Mutare to celebrate his 82nd birthday on February 25, by spilling oil on the road to make his motorcade have an accident.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, of which Bennett remains a prominent member, has denied all knowledge of the alleged plot.

Bennet emerged from prison last year after serving a 12-month jail sentence for pushing Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa to the ground. It was a sentence imposed by the ZANU PF majority in parliament – in which Bennett sat as an MDC deputy – rather than by a court of law.

As a white Zimbabwean farmer, Bennett had already seen his cattle and coffee landholdings looted and expropriated by soldiers and ZANU PF militants, his farmhouse burned down, his wife beaten so badly that she lost the baby she was carrying, two farm workers killed by soldiers and female workers raped.

Immediately before Bennett was placed on the wanted list for the alleged plot against Mugabe, IWPR carried out the last known interview with him. He spoke about his stay in the Chikurubi maximum security prison, outside Harare, which he said was one of the most gruelling experiences of his life, and also about his hopes for the future.

IWPR: It is eight months since you came out of prison for shoving Patrick Chinamasa. What you have been up to since your release?

Bennett: Just trying to survive in these harsh economic conditions and still fighting for democracy in this country. I am still determined to fight for democracy.

IWPR: But Roy, you have been quiet since you came out of prison Are you still actively involved in politics?

Bennett: Yes, in fact I was elected the [MDC] chairman for Manicaland province. And that is how I am fighting our struggle for democracy. The struggle against this regime is just beginning.

IWPR: But the MDC, of which you are a member, has split. In which faction do you hold that position of chairman?

Bennett: I am the chairman of MDC, the party, and not a faction. There are no factions in Manicaland. Here it's “MDC, the party”. I am leading people towards democracy and not towards a faction. [The MDC split late last year on the issue of whether or not to contest elections to a controversial new upper house of parliament. Bennett remains loyal to MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai who was against fighting the Senate election.]

IWPR: Can you tell us what was going on through your mind when you were in prison and what the conditions were like there?

Bennett: It was terrible. The conditions are terrible. It's a terrible life that those prisoners are living there. It's totally inhuman.

IWPR: What kind of people did you meet there?

Bennett: I met both hardcore and petty criminals. But what really struck me were the petty thieves who were locked up for months for stealing chickens and even groundnuts. Most of these people were below 25 years of age. And that told me that there was something terribly wrong about this system.

IWPR: So what does that indicate to you?

Bennett: It shows me that all these boys in jail were trying to survive. They were pushed to do criminal activities because of the economic collapse. They were jobless and they were trying to survive. It is government policies that destroyed this economy.

IWPR: And the conditions in jail?

Bennett: Well they kept on changing me, but sometimes I was with as many as 50 people in one cell. It was so crowded that you can't sleep on your back. You have to sleep on your side because there is no space. The ablution systems have broken down. The food is even worse.

IWPR: Did that break your spirit?

Bennett: No, because I knew this was part of the struggle for democracy.

IWPR: Before you were sent to prison, the government had already started moving on you at your Charleswood Farm. Can you tell us more about that?

Bennett: The government had already taken over my farm through the army. I was chased out of my farm and left with nothing except the clothes I was wearing. They took everything that I had. Everything that I have worked for, for years. They harvested my 70 tonnes of standing coffee. They took my 170 head of cattle and 300 sheep. They also took over my Export Processing Zone factory with its state-of-the-art coffee milling plant.

IWPR: The government is now giving slight hints that it might compensate commercial farmers who lost their land in President Mugabe's so-called land reform programme. Were you given anything?

Bennett: They took everything and they never paid a cent for it. Now the army has moved out and given the farm to Arda (a government-owned agriculture company) to run it. Arda is busy slaughtering my cattle and sheep and taking the money. There is complete lawlessness in this country.

IWPR: Did you seek redress in the court?

Bennett: Yes I did, and the court said it was an urgent matter. There were eight judgments in my favour and Mugabe simply overrode every one of them. Only last week, Arda took 21 head of cattle and 60 sheep for slaughter at the Surrey Abattoirs. But I now understand that, after realising that we have gone to court, they took the animals back to another farm in Chimanimani, not my own.

IWPR: So retribution has continued?

Bennett: Yes. I am suffering for pushing Chinamasa who, as you know, had provoked me. They are still punishing me for that.

IWPR: Have you ever considered leaving Zimbabwe, as other white farmers are doing?

Bennett: No, the battle is here. I will stay and fight it out in Zimbabwe. We need to fight this regime.

Jacob Uriri is a pseudonym for a journalist in Zimbabwe.

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