“Why arrest Roy Bennett?,” reads the headline at My Heart's in Accra about the MDC Treasurer General and Deputy Minister of Agriculture designate, Roy Bennett, who was arrested Friday in Harare. He was charged with treason before these charges were dropped and replaced with attempt to commit terrorism, banditry and sabotage. Zimbabwean bloggers and others have not been silent about his arrest. Many bloggers consider the charges against Bennett to be false. One bloggers links his arrest to Mugabe's hatred for white farmers. Bennett was a commercial farmer before he went into exile in South Africa. It is reported that soon after his arrival in Zimbabwe from his exile, he visited his old farm.
But who is Roy Bennett?:
Bennett was once a star commercial farmer, but one without the stereotypical reputation of the Rhodesian-style white farmer. He enjoyed good relations with the surrounding community for one, even once winning election to parliament in a pretty much all-black constituency.
He strongly resisted the take over of his farm at the height of the farm invasions. Unlike the situation with the disposession of many other white farmers, Bennett was supported in that resistance by many in the local community. That contradicted the Mugabe narrative of white farms being taken over in order to benefit a grateful black peasantry. That initial eagerness and gratitude was indeed the case amongst local communities in many parts of the country, especially in areas where the white farmers had bad relations with those communities, which was far from unheard of.
So Bennett annoyed officialdom not only by his strenuous resistance to the takeover of his farm, but by that local support as well. Then there was the additional ‘insult’ of his being elected to parliament, where he further earned more enemies by his outspokenness. When he pushed close Mugabe confidant and government minister Patrick Chinamasa to the floor during a row in parliament, the political guns were set against him. He was jailed for for that un-parliamentary physical confrontation, lost his seat and then had treason charges made against him, causing him to flee to South Africa.
He only returned to Zimbabwe in the last 10 days or so for the swearing in of the new unity government. Just last week there were media stories remarking in surprise how he had not been harassed or arrested on his return, despite the old treason charges still being outstanding.
Ethan has trouble figuring out why the police in Zimbabwe would arrest him. He notes that no one will take “the new Zimbabwe” serious as long as Bennett remains in prison:
Bennett is a controversial figure – he’s the treasurer of the MDC, and an extremely vocal critic of Mugabe and ZANU-PF. As a white farmer, he’s an extremely symbolic figure in Zimbabwean politics. When his successful coffee farm was seized in 2004, he attacked fellow MPs on the floor of parliament and was arrested and imprisoned for several months. Accused of participating in a plot to overthrow Mugabe’s government, he fled to South Africa, where he’s lived in exile until last week.
Bennett was invited to join the power-sharing government as deputy agriculture minister, and came back into Zimbabwe. He was arrested Friday afternoon in Harare and taken to a prison in eastern Zimbabwe, where he was initially charged with treason. The treason charges were dropped, and he’s now charged with the three-year old charges of financing terrorism, the charges that led him into exile. My friends at Sokwanele describe these charges as “a fishing expedition”, and are demanding his immediate and unconditional release. American political strategist Joe Trippi has been calling a great deal of attention to Bennett’s case around the world, naming the individuals at Mutare Prison responsible for his safety, in the hopes of keeping Bennett safe from abuse or torture.
I’m baffled by the decision to arrest Bennett. Yes, he was a provocative choice for a ministerial position, a test by MDC to see whether ZANU-PF was serious about cooperating. His arrest seems to suggest that ZANU-PF isn’t serious, and is testing to see what would be required to get Tsvangirai to walk away from the partnership. If we could know more about the machinations behind the scenes, we might discover other factors at play – the Zimbabwe Times speculates that there may be pressure coming from politicians who seized Bennett’s farm with government cooperation, and are now worried that Bennett will be able to take his property back.
Why’s Bennett in jail? It’s hard to know for sure. But no one will take “the new Zimbabwe” seriously as long as he remains in prison.
Zim Review shows that the arrest of Bennett can be understood in the context of the continuing land contestation in Zimbabwe:
So these still-powerful but now very jittery people would not have been re-assured or amused by the symbolism of new prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai appointing, of all people, Roy Bennett to be deputy minister of agriculture. Despite his only being deputy to a ZANU-PF minister, this appointment must have symbolically been seen as extremely provocative by ZANU-PF fat cats. It would have revived the deep fears that whatever the terms of the unity agreement, the MDC’s ultimate lands agenda is to “reverse the gains of the revolution,” as the state media has accused for years.
Many of the ruling party fat cats, both those opposed to the unity government idea as well as those who might have been willing to take a wait-and-see attitude to it, must have seen Tsvangirai’s appointment of a Bennett who is a lightning rod for them to be deputy minister of the ‘emotive’ portfolio of agriculture as simply being too much for them to take.
Their worry and sense of provocation would have been compounded by the news that soon after his arrival in Zimbabwe from his exile in South Africa, Bennett visited his old farm. It is entirely understandable that he would want to do so, whether or not he is hoping to get it back, but this must have been sen in many ZANU-PF circles as being more cheeky provocation by Bennett. There is little doubt in my mind that in these worried powerful circles the visit would have been explained as, “he went to inspect his old farm back in obvious hope of/preparation for moving back onto it.”
Denford Magora considers Bennett's arrest as simply a fulfillment of ZANU PF strategy and tricks. He also observes that Mugabe hates white farmers and therefore Bennett has become its first and foremost victim:
Most of this took place before the arrest of Bennet but what puzzled people everywhere I spoke was why Jestina Mukoko and others remained in jail even though Tsvangirai was now Prime Minister.
Now Roy Bennett has been arrested and the world is also agog. Puzzled voices are asking why on earth the Prime Minister continues to take all this lying down. They had built an image of him as an uncompromising, stubborn man who was giving Mugabe a run for his money at every turn.
Well, what we are witnessing now is simply fulfilment of the strategy that we have laid down here as coming from Mugabe's ZANU PF. I told you some months back that the two options Mugabe was pursuing were as follows:
In the case of Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC resfusing to take part in the government, the strategy involving the State of Emergency would be kicked into place. The banditry charges against Mukoko and others would be widened to take in even more people. The idea is to so paralyse the MDC that, come next elections, Mugabe would walk back into power. The soldiers who “mutinied” and who have now been “pardoned” according to the State Media, would have had a prominent role to play , accusing the MDC of having paid them to stage the mutiny as a precursor to a general insurgency.
The second option was in place for a case where Tsvangirai accepts to go into government. I explained this in a couple of articles on this blog going back to October last year. This second option, as I put it back then is to ISOLATE Morgan Tsvangirai. I used the words “stranded in office.”
So, the MDC has joined government and that plan is now being implemented. It does not help, of course, that in spite of my detailed explanation of the strategy on this blog, Morgan Tsvangirai has fallen for the very tricks I forewarned about.
There are two things at play here: First and quite obvious is Mugabe's hatred of white farmers in Zimbabwe. Mugabe's bitterness at what he calls “the spurning of my hand of reconciliation by Rhodesians” has to be seen to be believed. Bennett is first and foremost a victim of that hatred.
Writing about this arrest, Bearded Man complains, “Mugabe is allowed to rule as he wants, do whatever he wants, to whoever he will”:
Much of the news today is with regard to the arrest of Roy Bennett and discussion of Mugabe's true intentions in a power-sharing government. You and I know that he is never going to participate fairly in any power-sharing government – indeed, he wants nothing to do with a power-sharing government, preferring to surround himself with Mugabe apologists and place the MDC under the most incredible amount of pressure, thereby painting them into corner.
He managed to do exactly that with the Presidential election, and then brow beat the MDC into some sort of agreement – the same agreement that he now reneges upon.
And, while confusion and broken promises reign supreme in Zimbabwe, the watching does absolutely nothing. Sadly, Zimbabwe has fallen from the top headlines and no longer has any interest for other governments the world over.
There are many speculations about those responsible for his arrest. Palapye claims that the Zimbabwe Military Intelligence Directorate is behind his arrest:
It is understood that the abduction, arrest and charging of MDC Treasurer General and Deputy Minister of Agriculture designate Roy Bennett is being planned, directed and operationalised by the Zimbabwe Military Intelligence Directorate (MID), led by one Mzilikazi, and the Special Agency SAS, the torture unit of the army, led by one Manene . General Constantine Chiwenga is also party to it. These people are known for their declared passionate and fanatical hatred of Roy Bennett.
We are also aware of an intent to dump Roy Bennett into Chivero river.
Sokwanele blog asks readers to call the police holding Bennett to let them know that the whole world is watching:
The Mutare numbers to call are +263 (0)20 64212 for the main charge office in Mutare
This cell number, we believe, is for the man in charge: +263 (0)91301 1761
CIO: +263 (0)20 66314 and +263 (0)20 61102
CID: +263 (0)20 65645
Please call (or sms the cell) these numbers to let the police holding Roy Bennett know that the world is watching very closely and want Roy Bennett to be released immediately. Tell them you will continue to monitor the situation closely, and that you are conveying your concerns to your local MP and the government in your country.
Ask them to observe the rule of law, and to treat Roy Bennett with dignity and respect.
If the person you are speaking to appears to be listening, keep talking, and ask him/her to carry a message to Roy Bennett to let HIM know you are watching over him from all over the world.
If they pretend they don’t know what you are talking about, or claim it is not a police station, keep talking and make sure you convey your message.
Joe Trippi writes about an account that has been set up to help with his legal fees and asks for information about an easy way to collect money online for a South African bank account:
Once again I ask you to please not let this story fade away. Roy is being held by relentless men being restrained only by the constant pressure and attention surrounding them in Zimbabwe and around the rest of the world.
Also, if anyone knows of a safe, easy way to collect money online for a South African-based bank account, please let me know (firstname.lastname@example.org). An account has been set up to help pay his legal fees, but we have not found a good solution to allow for online donations. If you can help, please let me know.