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Zimbabwe's Roy Bennett Hit With New Charges

  • Peta Thornycroft

President Mugabe says he will not swear Bennett into office until courts clear him of all outstanding charges

Roy Bennett, a senior member of the Movement for Democratic Change, was charged with breaking Zimbabwe's maize law. The deputy agriculture minister designate in the shaky 13-month-old inclusive government is already on trial on treason charges. President Robert Mugabe has said he will not swear Mr. Bennett into office until the courts clear him of all outstanding charges.

Mr. Bennett was slapped with new charges Wednesday in which the attorney-general accused him of abusing state corn laws nine years ago, shortly before he was kicked off his coffee farm in Eastern Zimbabwe.

Since entering politics 10 years ago Bennett has been repeatedly arrested, beaten in detention, and violently evicted from both the coffee farm he owned in eastern Zimbabwe and another piece of land he subsequently rented.

He had to flee from Zimbabwe when some of his associates were arrested and accused of treason.

He returned to Zimbabwe last year as the inclusive government was being formed. MDC Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai appointed him deputy agriculture minister.

Before he was sworn in Bennett was charged with treason.

His treason trial continues and the state has closed its case against him. When he arrived at the Harare High Court Wednesday, further charges were handed to him accusing of being in possession of 92 tons of maize that he did not declare to authorities in 2001. Bennett said the maize was meant to feed workers at his farm.

He said the corn was confiscated by the army and the case against him was abandoned.

There was no reply from state law offices Thursday.

Bennett said the only way ZANU-PF could stop him working towards democracy was to kill him. Nothing else, he said, would work.

"They cannot buy me, and they cannot, cannot intimidate me," said Bennett.

Bennett's lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa says the state's case against Bennett for treason has collapsed. She said further charges against were "harassment" and to keep him on trial.

Bennett claims that President Robert Mugabe will not swear him into office because he would have access to damaging information about ZANU-PF, including evidence that top ZANU-PF officials helped themselves to state farm equipment prior to formation of the inclusive government.

Most senior ZANU-PF officials, including Mr. Mugabe, occupy formerly white-owned farms. Mr. Mugabe's confiscation of farms was managed by agriculture minister, Joe Made.

"The ministry of agriculture, mechanization and irrigation has been an avenue for total exploitation by the president, Robert Mugabe through his personal farm manager Joseph Made in exporting state resources for (their own) personal gain," said Bennett.

Bennett said there was nothing ZANU-PF could do to force the MDC to pull out of the inclusive government.

"We are there to fight this thing to the end, and we will fight them step by step, blow by blow, and see it thorough," Bennett added. "We have to make this succeed in the interests of the people of Zimbabwe and in the interests of the nation of Zimbabwe."

Negotiators from Zimbabwe's three political parties have been in talks for days, but failed to meet the March 31 deadline set by South African president Jacob Zuma, who is the Southern African Development Community's mediator on Zimbabwe.

Mr. Zuma told negotiators to produce a timetable for resolution of outstanding issues of the political agreement which lead to formation of the inclusive government.

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