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Zimbabwean Opposition Official Refused Asylum in South Africa


South Africa has refused political asylum to Roy Bennett, a senior official in Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change party.

South Africa's Department of Home Affairs has confirmed it has denied asylum to Bennett. Bennett's lawyer, Jacob van Garderen of Lawyers for Human Rights, said that Bennett will appeal the decision.

Bennett fled to South Africa in March, following the discovery of a large arms cache in Zimbabwe and the arrest of former soldier Peter Hitschmann, whom the Zimbabwe government said was a leader of a shadowy organization known as the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement.

The government said the arms were going to be used to overthrow President Robert Mugabe, and it said authorities were looking for Bennett in connection with their investigation. The opposition Movement for Democratic Change said at the time that Hitschmann was not connected in any way to the party.

The decision to deny Bennett asylum has been condemned by the Zimbabwe Exiles Forum. In a statement, Forum director Gabriel Shumba described the decision as "callous" and characteristic of what he called South Africa's hypocritical approach to the Zimbabwe crisis.

Shumba also said that, in recent months, the South African government has routinely been denying applications for asylum from Zimbaweans. However, Welshman Ncube, a member of a splinter faction of Zimbabwe's opposition movement told VOA that he is aware of several Zimbabweans, who have recently been granted asylum in South Africa.

The Zimbabwe Exiles Forum said Bennett faces arrest and possible torture, if he returns to Zimbabwe. Hitschmann's wife disputed reports her husband was tortured. She told VOA that he was suffering from a kidney infection he contracted in prison, and that it took five days before he was allowed to see a doctor. He is the only person who remains in jail in connection with the arms cache, all the others have been released.

The Zimbabwe Exiles Forum has urged the South African government to reconsider its decision.