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Zimbabwe's Legislators Criticized For Clash in Parliament - 2004-05-19

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change and civil rights activists have criticized legislators for a verbal and physical clash in parliament on Tuesday. During the session, a government minister verbally attacked a white member from the opposition, who lost his temper and pushed the man and another government minister to the ground.

The Crisis Coalition, which represents most non-governmental organizations in Zimbabwe, called the clash "despicable." The group said the members of parliament are not giving national issues the serious attention they deserve, and are not providing a good example to the country's young people.

Opposition legislator Paul Themba Nyathi criticized his colleague Roy Bennett for pushing the two government ministers to the floor, saying he should not have lost his temper. But Mr. Nyathi also criticized Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa for his sharp verbal attack that precipitated the incident. Mr. Nyathi said it was the worst racial barrage he has ever heard in the chamber.

During the verbal attack, Mr. Bennett pushed Mr. Chinamasa to the floor, and in the ensuing scuffle another minister, 69-year-old Didymus Mutasa also hit the floor.

The ruling ZANU-PF party criticized only Mr. Bennett, with no mention of the harsh comments by Minister Chinamasa. Mr. Chinamasa said Mr. Bennett would suffer for the crimes of his ancestors, and would never return to his family farm.

Government supporters took over Mr. Bennett's farm in April as part of Zimbabwe's controversial land reform program, in spite of more than 10 court orders allowing him to stay.

During the period leading up to the confiscation, many of his workers and their families, including young children, were regularly beaten, and many rapes took place on his farm. Mr. Bennett himself has been repeatedly arrested and tortured and barricaded inside his house, and his wife's pregnancy was ended by one prolonged attack.

After the incident in parliament, Mr. Bennett said he had simply lost his temper, and said he was not proud of what happened. But he did not apologize.

Mr. Bennett, who is white, is particularly despised by members of the ruling party, in part because he won his parliamentary seat in an area where Zimbabwe's liberation struggle against white rule began. Now that he has been evicted from his farm, he may not be eligible to run for parliament from that district in the next election, scheduled for next year.

Mr. Bennett is to be brought to parliament for a disciplinary hearing. If found guilty he could be suspended, fined or imprisoned.