Africa, Headlines, Human Rights

ZIMBABWE: Inclusive Govt Must Respect Human Rights

Ntandoyenkosi Ncube interviews HEATHER BENNETT, Zimbabwean refugee

JOHANNESBURG, Mar 6 2009 (IPS) - Heather Bennett, a former commercial farmer, candidate for Parliament and the wife of detained Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) treasurer, Roy Leslie Bennett, says the party has let her husband down.

Roy Bennett was poised to be sworn in as Deputy Minister of Agriculture, an important post in a ministry in charge of a racially and politically charged farming sector. Instead, he was arrested on Feb. 13, moments before boarding a private plane for a flight to Johannesburg, South Africa.

As newly appointed cabinet ministers were sworn in at State House in Harare, Bennett was driven away, reportedly in a vehicle belonging to the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, General Constantine Chiwenga. Though the High Court granted him bail on Feb. 24, he has remained in remand prison. Original charges of treason were dropped and he now faces charges of attempting to commit terrorism, banditry and sabotage.

Heather Bennett, who sought political asylum in South Africa along with her husband and their two children in 2006, spoke to IPS in Johannesburg on Mar. 2. Excerpts of the interview follow.

IPS: What do you think is the reason behind Roy’s arrest? Heather Bennett: Roy’s arrest is completely political. Firstly, I think they see Roy as a threat. I think they (the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front or Zanu-PF) are afraid when Roy takes office as Deputy Minister of Agriculture he will be able to prove to the world how this whole land grab was just a political move by Zanu-PF to stay in power. Most of the farms were given to army or military heads, to Zanu-PF MP’s and to judges loyal to Zanu-PF as patronage tools to keep them loyal to Robert Mugabe.

If an audit of farms is done, which the MDC policy states, which speaks of rationalisation of farm ownership through an independent committee constituted and legalised by an Act of Parliament, it is going to show how many farms that were productive a few years ago are now lying in ruins, because the people that were given the farms sold all the assets and then moved on to another farm.

It is alleged Patrick Chinamasa has gone through nine farms like this, selling all the assets then having access to government-subsidised fuel, fertiliser, seed and selling them. The whole land issue has had nothing to do with addressing historical injustices as Mugabe would have the world believe through his propaganda. It was a political tool of survival on the eve of an election he was sure he would lose.

Secondly, I think the Zanu-PF old guard cannot stand the fact that Roy is loved and respected openly by the people of Zimbabwe. He is one white person whose image they have dismally failed to tarnish in the eyes of the people of Zimbabwe, despite and in spite of their propaganda. Zanu-PF knows but they are refusing to accept that the tide of change has gripped Zimbabwe and is irreversible.

IPS: Do you think he will be released soon? HB: This is completely dependent on the inclusive government. They have to respect the rule of law. Bail has been granted and Roy should be released immediately. The judgment of the High Court must be respected and the inclusive government and the Prime Minister must insure that the judgment calling for the release of my husband is adhered to.

There must be evidence of some change in how the government of Zimbabwe treats people. All political prisoners must be released.

IPS: Do you feel that Roy was let down by the MDC party? HB: Yes, I feel he is being let down by all parties in Zimbabwe because I have heard very few statements from individuals condemning his detention and that of the other political detainees too.

I think everybody that has taken posts within this inclusive government should be ashamed of themselves that they have done this while Roy Bennett and others who were fighting to bring democracy to Zimbabwe are still locked up in prison under the most horrendous conditions. I wonder if they can sleep well at night.

I know that if any of them were in prison, Roy would be doing everything possible to get them out. He would spend sleepless nights to get them out. I know what he did when Morgan Tsvangirai and some of the leaders of civic society were brutalised on Mar 11, (2007). I feel they have let my husband down. I still appeal to them to re-look at their conscience.

IPS: Was Roy nervous about going back to Zimbabwe? HB: Yes, obviously like anybody else, he was nervous. He is brave but not stupid. Anybody that knows the evil of Zanu-PF knows that they can not be trusted. So, yes, he was nervous.

IPS: Who do you think is behind Roy’s arrest? HP: Robert Mugabe, Patrick Chinamasa, and Constantine Chiwenga.

IPS: What made him return to Zimbabwe, was he convinced by Tsvangirai or anyone else? HB: Roy returned in good faith after the signing of the Global Political Agreement, and after South Africa, SADC and the AU leadership guaranteed this agreement and the inclusive government. He returned as he is committed to Zimbabwe and was eager to start the rebuilding process.

He was assured by the South African government that nothing would happen to him.

IPS: What are your plans? Are you going back to Zimbabwe if Roy is released and starts pursuing his national duties? HB: Yes, we will all go back home, we are in South Africa as refugees and would want to go back to Zimbabwe as soon as possible.

I think I speak for millions of Zimbabweans here, who would all go home as soon as they thought it safe and could see that the rule of law and human rights were being respected and that we could all start rebuilding our lives again. But arresting Roy I am sure causes a lot of hesitation for us and am sure a number of other activists that have been all over the world as refugees.

But no doubt we want to go back home.

IPS: Are you happy that Roy was appointment Deputy Minister of Agriculture? HB: I think that portfolio will obviously be a difficult one but whatever position Roy is given he will do it with utmost honesty and make it work, so I would be comfortable with whatever position he was given and for that matter if he does not have a position, as long as he can do what he loves best, working with the people of Zimbabwe.

IPS: Are you optimistic about the unity government? HB: The inclusive government can only work if they respect the rule of law and human rights and at this stage they are clearly not doing that.

IPS: What’s your message to SADC and the AU leadership who are guarantors of the inclusive government that is currently detaining Roy? HB: I would ask them to stand by the agreement they guaranteed and not let Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF to continue to be bullish and insincere. Zanu-PF must take the agreement seriously. I am sure that if the leadership of SADC and the AU commit themselves; we can make this continent a wonderful place for everyone.

I would plead with SADC and the AU leadership to ensure the safe and immediate release of my husband, Jestina Mukoko and all political prisoners. I think they need to pressurize the Zimbabwe government to release Roy and the other political detainees as their continued incarceration is completely illegal and is obviously political.

The Zimbabwe government should be forced to respect the rule of law and human rights. I do not think that the Zimbabwe Government should be supported in any way until such times as they respect the rule of law. I understand that (activist) Jestina (Mukoko) is chained to her hospital bed. That is clearly inhuman and degrading. The inclusive government must really respect human rights and show that things have changed.

IPS: There are allegations that some of your properties, assets and cattle were taken by senior ZANU-PF officials, how far true is that? HB: That is 100 percent true. When the government took Charleswood we were not allowed to take anything with us. We had to leave with nothing I do not think a lot of people understand this.

Imagine walking out of your house now and never going back, never being allowed one single thing. Imagine leaving our vehicles, our furniture, our clothes, and things you have collected over a life time, things that were passed down from generation to generation. Also with taking the farm from us the way they did it meant Roy no longer had a job. We no longer have a roof over our heads. We have to start from scratch.

Apart from us, the Government also evicted all the workers from Charleswood, they too lost their homes, their Jobs, their friends, the school their children were going to, the farm clinic where they could get free medication, a lot of our workers were on long term medication that they now had no access to.

They lost everything too.

Terna Gyuse adds from Cape Town: Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was involved in a car accident south of the capital, Harare, on the afternoon of Mar. 6.

Media reports say he was travelling to Buhera, his rural home, where he was expected to attend a rally over the weekend, when his vehicle collided with a lorry. His wife, Susan, who was also in the car was killed.

According to MDC sources, Tsvangirai himself was not seriously injured, but he is under observation in a private clinic in Harare.


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