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Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone's life. Be the light that helps others see; it is what gives life its deepest significance

Roy Bennett Gone But The Spirit of “Pachedu” Lives On


By —— Bio and Archives--January 23, 2018

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Roy Bennett Gone  But The Spirit of Pachedu Lives On
Without his likely ever realizing it, Canada Free Press commenter Fred Niziol brought me solace today just as I learned about the tragic deaths of prominent Zimbabwean freedom warrior Roy Bennett,  his wife, Heather and Charles Burnett III.

Niziol posted these inspiring words to Facebook: “Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life. Be the light that helps others see; it is what gives life its deepest significance.” —Roy T. Bennett

The Bennetts and Burnett were among five killed in a helicopter crash in a mountainous area in the U.S. State of New Mexico, Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018 when only one person survived.

Roy Bennett, with whom I tried to stay in touch after interviewing him in August 2002, was a hero to so many who will sorely miss him;  Texas-based investor and philanthropist Charles Burnett III, the much beloved son of my late dear friend, Miriam Burnett, and the nephew of Canadian Galen Weston.

Related:
Zimbabwe’s loneliest prisoner

Anyone who knew Roy Bennett would know that he never would have expected to end his days on American soil.

For most of his 60 years, the farmer who would go on to be known as “the sharpest thorn in the side of Robert Mugabe”, was thoroughly Zimbabwean in heart and soul, an eloquent and passionate voice for mainstream Zimbabweans under the 37 year long Mugabe dictatorship. 

The audible sigh of sorrow sent up skyward when word of their tragic deaths hit home made it seem that even the Zimbabwean wind was mourning.  But nothing quite struck the heart like the headline of the Zimbabwe Vigil Diary: 20th January 2018: Vigil Mourns Pachedu.

“Pachedu (meaning “one of us” in Shona) was what Bennett, a white farmer who would become a key Zimbabwean Opposition Leader, always was to those who sent him to Parliament.

“The Vigil was in mourning for Roy Bennett who encouraged us to mount our public protest outside the Zimbabwe Embassy in London in 2002 and who remained a constant support in the many years since then. (Bulawayo, Jan. 21, 2018)

“Roy and his brave wife Heather, who died in a helicopter crash in the United States on Wednesday, were true heroes in the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe. A farmer elected to parliament for the new MDC in 2000, he was an eloquent opponent of the Mugabe regime, partly because he was a fluent Shona speaker with devoted local support for a democratic, non-racial future.
 
“Today we particularly remembered the time that he and Heather put on our t-shirts and joined in the singing and dancing at the Vigil. In those darkest of times he said the Vigil was ‘a fire in Mugabe’s bum’. He was speaking shortly after his release from an horrendous spell in prison. But whatever happened to him he retained a deep love of Zimbabwe and faith in the future of Zimbabweans.
 
“In recent years he had been farming in Zambia but, with the overthrow of Mugabe, we had hopes he would return to Zimbabwe and help turn around farming in the country, given President Mnangagwa’s promise of a new beginning and free, fair and credible elections.
 
“We will all miss his advice in this time of change. Mnangagwa has rejected Mugabe’s counter-productive populist policies such as indigenization, and says he will allow Western observers for the elections. But the Vigil is not persuaded by his appeal to ‘let bygones be bygones’. If the nation is to be healed there must be a full truth and reconciliation process, however painful this may be.
 
“Roy expressed his joy at the ousting of Mugabe in an interview with CNN. He said never before had he been so proud to be a Zimbabwean. He added that Mnangagwa and Chiwenga were Mugabe’s accomplices and were hated by the people. They must apologise and introduce reforms. The genii had been let out of the bottle and never again would there be a dictatorship in Zimbabwe.

“But there were few signs of repentance in a lengthy interview Mnangagwa gave this week to the London Financial Times.

 

Continued below...

The Vigil, outside the Zimbabwe Embassy, 429 Strand, London, takes place every Saturday from 14.00 to 18.00 to protest against gross violations of human rights in Zimbabwe. The Vigil which started in October 2002 will continue until internationally-monitored, free and fair elections are held in Zimbabwe.”

“After receiving death threats, Bennett fled Zimbabwe but returned in 2009 after his party nominated him for the deputy agriculture minister in a coalition government with Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. Mugabe, who had repeatedly alleged Bennett was the opposition party’s contact with foreign funders, refused to swear him in. (BBC, Jan.18, 2018)

“Bennett later returned to South Africa but remained a vocal critic of Mugabe’s rule. He also criticized his former party for allegedly enjoying the comforts of government while ordinary Zimbabweans suffered.”

“A spokesman for the MDC party, Obert Gutu, later said in a statement that Mr Bennett was a charismatic and extremely popular grassroots politician and a successful commercial farmer.

“Roy was a resolute and committed fighter for democratic change in Zimbabwe,” Mr Gutu said.

Details of the private helicopter crash, now under investigation, leave room for suspicion:

 


“Burnett’s friends, pilot Jamie Coleman Dodd of Colorado and co-pilot Paul Cobb of Texas, were ferrying the group aboard a Huey UH-1 when it went down after dark Wednesday. (BBC)

“All five died, according to New Mexico State Police.

“The only survivor was Andra Cobb, the co-pilot’s daughter who was in a long-term relationship with Burnett. She was able to escape before the helicopter burst into flames.

“Burnett’s personal lawyer, Martyn Hill said both Dodd and Cobb were experienced aviators who would not have taken unnecessary risks in the helicopter. 

“Cobb served in Vietnam and survived being shot down, he said.

“A 911 call from Andra Cobb alerted authorities to the crash, whose cause is under investigation. There was no indication of bad weather that night.

“Officials launched a search but said the response was slow because of the rugged terrain and lack of access. Engulfed in flames, the wreckage of the helicopter registered to an aviation company linked to Burnett was spotted on a ranch.

“The group was heading to the Emery Gap Ranch, a mountainous property on the Colorado-New Mexico border. Burnett bought it in February 2017, said Sam Middleton, a real estate broker in Lubbock, Texas, who helped with the purchase.

 

Continued below...

“In Zimbabwe, Tendai Biti, a prominent opposition leader and a former finance minister, tweeted that the Bennetts’ “tragic passing” was “a blow to our struggle.” David Coltart, an opposition figure, said the couple were “two of Zimbabwe’s greatest patriots.”

“In 2004, Roy Bennett was jailed for a year for assaulting a Cabinet minister who had said Bennett’s “forefathers were thieves and murderers” during a parliamentary debate. An enraged Bennett charged the minister, who fell to the floor.

“He emerged from prison rail-thin and scarred from repeated sunburns. He told of the mistreatment of fellow prisoners, some of whom he said had starved to death in their cells.

In the midst of sadness and grief, the words quoted by Bennett, posted by Fred Niziol so far away from Bennett’s home are proof that the spirit of “Pachedu” lives on:

“Learn to light a candle in the darkest moments of someone’s life. Be the light that helps others see; it is what gives life its deepest significance.”


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Judi McLeod is an award-winning journalist with 30 years’ experience in the print media. A former Toronto Sun columnist, she also worked for the Kingston Whig Standard. Her work has appeared on Rush Limbaugh, Newsmax.com, Drudge Report, Foxnews.com.

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