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The sentencing of Roy Bennett M.P. : The high water mark of lawlessness

There are some acts which, even coming from a regime notorious for its brutal disregard of human rights, still cause a sense of shock and outrage in the nation. Such an act is the sentencing of Roy Bennett by Parliament to an effective term of imprisonment of 12 months with hard labour. It is grossly disproportionate. It offends every civilized standard of law and morality. It is outrageous and should be condemned in the strongest terms by all who have any concern for justice and the rule of law.

However this monstrous injustice is dressed up it remains just that, a monstrous injustice - a calculated act of racial bigotry, an act of political revenge by a hugely unpopular regime carried out on one of the most popular opposition members of parliament.

Roy Bennet is a "politician who won his seat in an almost entirely black constituency by a resounding majority, a man of the people who has contributed substantially to the spirit of ubuntu in this country".

For make no mistake Roy Bennett, member of parliament for Chimanimani, enjoys massive support in his constituency and way beyond. He is not - NOT - an unreformed "Rhodie" as the Mugabe regime would like to paint him. In fact he is one of the most culturally-sensitive, enlightened and progressive white-skinned Africans among the present leadership of the region. A politician who won his seat in an almost entirely black constituency by a resounding majority, a man of the people who has contributed substantially to the spirit of ubuntu in this country.

Image depicting the Bennett experiences under Zanu PFRoy Bennet and the people who work with him on his farm at Charleswood Estate, have been subjected to repeated illegal and inhumane treatment by those in power including violence, intimidation, rape, torture, destruction of property, as well as the illegal seizure of land.
Roy Bennet and the people who work with him on his farm at Charleswood Estate, have been subjected to repeated illegal and inhumane treatment by those in power including violence, intimidation, rape, torture, destruction of property, as well as the illegal seizure of land.

Nor is by chance that Bennett who epitomizes this wonderful spirit, has been singled out for an extreme form of victimization by the clique of small-minded, intolerant, racist and xenophobic politicians who now constitute the ruling elite. If there is one kind of person this clique fears, and has good reason to fear, it is the bridge-builder in the community, the person who stands for unity rather than division, and the common good rather than personal gain - and such a man is Roy Bennett. Hence the vicious assault upon his Charleswood Estate farm in total disregard of several High Court orders, the violent attacks upon his loyal farm workers, the destruction of his coffee plantation, and the daylight robbery of his coffee crop by ZANU PF chefs. Hence the sustained hate campaign against him by the state-controlled propaganda machine, and hence the latest, and most despicable, abuse of parliamentary procedure to send him to prison.

During a parliamentary debate in May this year Bennett was subjected to intolerable abuse when justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa persistently called him "mabhunu" - a term of derogatory racial abuse - and accused his ancestors of being thieves. The supreme irony of course was that the man abusing Bennett himself presided over an administration that not only permitted but encouraged the illegal seizure of properties such as Bennett's Charleswood Estate. The provocation was more than most mortals could take.

So Bennett pushed Chinamasa to the floor. Yes, he did go over the top and such behaviour cannot be condoned, though in the circumstances it is hardly to be wondered at. Also to be considered is the fact that in this undignified scuffle Bennett himself was pushed to the floor by other MP's and kicked while down by none other than senior ZANU PF politician Didymus Mutasa.

It is understood that Chinamasa had not a bruise to show for this altercation but obviously his pride was offended mightily. So he and others in the ZANU PF circle plotted their revenge, and they achieved that revenge yesterday in Parliament.

An effective term of 12 months imprisonment with hard labour. For the offence committed, and taking into account the severe provocation, the sentence was grossly excessive and totally disproportionate. One lawyer consulted said that on similar facts in a case some years ago a fine of Z$ 80,000 was imposed (or 50 days in prison in default). The more normal outcome would surely be a caution and discharge. And bearing in mind that Bennett has no recourse to appeal to the courts because Parliament has independent judicial powers, the need for a proper judicial approach to the case was all the greater.

To achieve this result the ruling party used its built-in majority in the Parliamentary Select Committee (3 to 2) and in the vote in Parliament itself (52 to 42). In short ZANU PF steam-rollered its way to this pre-determined conclusion. It did so in blatant disregard of every norm of civilized government and every tenet of human decency. And what, one might ask, is to stop the ruling party from using this as a precedent to hand out long custodial sentences to any other members of the opposition with whom they are displeased - on the most flimsy pretext ? The door is wide open to further abuse of the same kind.

Offended pride and personal vengeance no doubt featured strongly in the decision to hit Bennett with this Parliamentary equivalent of a lynching party. But there was a measure of cynical calculation in it too, for at one stroke ZANU PF have further reduced the MDC caucus in Parliament, rid themselves of an embarrassing political opponent in the run-up to the 2005 elections, and removed an opponent from a seat they could not otherwise have hoped to win. (As a "bonus" they have also removed any cause for restraint in the continued plundering of Charleswood Estate by the local ZANU PF mafia) All of which are more than convenient to a beleaguered regime which has virtually no prospect of ever again winning the hearts and minds of the people it purports to represent.

On the pretext of upholding the law, ZANU PF have perpetrated the most cynical and calculating act of lawlessness. They cannot be allowed to get away with it. Let lawyers and legislators around the world condemn this barbaric act. Let the Church and civil society protest in the strongest terms. And let Zimbabweans of every racial hue, tribal or party allegiance, finally say to this fascist regime "NO !" You have gone one step too far. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH !!