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Cover Story

Zimbabwe's loneliest prisoner

by Judi McLeod, Canadafreepress.com

December 13, 2004

With Christmas nigh and the international community looking the other way, Roy Bennett, the only white farmer MP in Zimbabwe’s opposition government, marks more than 40 days in prison.

Sentenced to one year’s hard labour, Bennett’s already badly blistered from sunburn and covered in lice. The MP’s crime? Officially, it’s that he angrily pushed then apologized to Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa, who had most flagrantly insulted his family. Chinamasa had called Bennett’s father and grandfather "thieves and murderers" and told him he’d never be allowed to return to his farm, taken by Robert Mugabe’s treacherous ZaNU-PF government.

Fighting words, indeed for a former police officer, whose English grandfather settled in what was then Rhodesia.

Bennett’s real crime? Being the only white farmer in parliament who persistently stand up against the Mugabe regime, despite beatings, arrests and threats.

as he languishes in Mutoko prison, the world goes on without him.

The 20th wedding anniversary of Roy and Heather Bennett passed as the courageous MP remained crammed with 17 other prisoners in a cell meant to hold four.

The heartbroken and anxious Heather is allowed to see her husband for only 10 minutes every two weeks.

When I recently discovered FreeRoyBennett.com and read that Bennett subsists on half a cup of gruel and cabbage stew twice a day, memories came flooding back about my August 16, 2002 meeting with him, memories that brought me to tears.

In august, the Canadian media was invited to meet with the Zimbabwean MP at a downtown Toronto hotel. Two reporters, including myself, turned up. a smorgasbord was part of the lunchtime media event, and Bennett heartily tucked into the scalloped potatoes and poached salmon.

"This food is delicious," he told me as he returned to the table for seconds.

Noting he had paid dearly for his courage in speaking out about starving Zimbabweans, I asked if ever considered giving up and leaving his mother country for a safer life elsewhere.

"You can’t run away from everything. There are some things in life worth taking a stand for," Bennett told me, winning a place in my heart forever as a bona fide, true-life hero.

a farmer at heart, Bennett was never the type to cut and run. In my column after our meeting, I wrote that he struck me as more of a farmer, husband and father than a politician, a belief I carry to the present day.

Caring for others is the lure that took him away from a farming life and his family to the harsher world of politics.

at home, Bennett became so popular among local people, he was dubbed with the nickname, "Pachedu–"one of us". It was the local masses who convinced him to stand in 2000 Zimbabwe elections. and that he did, winning an overwhelming majority in what had been a stronghold of the ruling party.

The heartbreak that came from his election will haunt supporters all the way to their graves. It started only two months later when Charleswood, his coffee farm was for the first time invaded by self-professed "war veterans". Heather Bennett, who was almost four months pregnant, was held hostage at knifepoint and made to dance and sing ZaNU PF songs in the rain. Two of the farm’s workers were brutally killed in front of her. When she finally managed to escape, she had miscarried what was never to be their third child.

Charleswood, which hired hundreds of blacks, was driven into bankruptcy, when its animals were slaughtered wholesale and its tons of coffee exported to Germany. The invasion of the coffee farm came within months of the bank loans that started it having been paid off in full.

But, like so many things in Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, Charleswood is only a fading memory of a better day.

Disturbing pictures of black workers raped and killed by human rights trampling ZaNU-PF can be seen by all on FreeRoyBennett.com.

In the bleak face of no one from the international community coming to the MP’s rescue, it was Heather, now renting a house with her teenage daughter who came up with the idea to launch the Free Roy Bennett campaign.

as the weeks wear on, Heather is disappointed by the lack of interest and the lack of help from the British government and others.

In her own words: "Everyone shouts about democracy and when brave people like Roy stand up, they say this is the right thing to do. But when he is arrested the international community turns their heads. It’s criminal."

Canadafreepress.com, now rated by alexa in the top one percent of the Worldwide Internet, wants to show Heather that while members of governments touting human rights are in Christmas mode, little people everywhere do care.

Thanks to the Internet, an email of hope and encouragement to Heather won’t cost a penny, and the spirits of Zimbabwe’s loneliest prisoner could depend on it.

Meanwhile, may the Christmas Christ Child protect and succor Zimbabwe MP Roy Bennett.

Canada Free Press founding editor Most recent by Judi McLeod is an award-winning journalist with 30 years experience in the print media. Her work has appeared on Newsmax.com, Drudge Report, Foxnews.com, Glenn Beck. Judi can be reached at: [email protected]


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