Zimbabwe’s high court late on Friday ordered the release of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s aide Roy Bennett whose detention forced the premiers MDC party to cut all contacts with President Robert Mugabe’s camp in the unity government. Bennett has denied all charges brought against him. Loathed by Zanu-PF and loved by MDC, he speaks the Shona language fluently. After seizing his property, Mugabe’s Zanu-PF has often used his past to discredit him. A real fist fight between between Bennett, Chinamasa and Mutasa is widely remembered by most Zimbabweans.
Justice Charles Hungwe told the court, “In my view the applicant stands to lose more by absconding trial. He has foiled his previous record, therefore he is entitled to an order that he seeks,”
The state immediately appealed the ruling but Hungwe dismissed the bid
to detain Bennett in custody for the start of his terrorism trial on Monday after a lower court revoked his bail and ordered he stand trial this week.
His trial is scheduled to begin on Monday at the High Court.
Bennett was kept behind bars in Mutate, east of Harare and his was meant to travel to Mutate to arrange his release.
Bennett, who was Tsvangirai’s pick as deputy agriculture minister but was arrested an hour before Mugabe swore in the new government in February, was ordered back in to custody on Wednesday to stand trial. He is charged with illegally possessing arms for purposes of committing acts of terrorism which carries a maximum death sentence. Bennett denies the charge.
Tsvangirai on Friday announced he was suspending co-operation with the
Mugabe camp, saying he will not resume relations until all outstanding
issues are resolved and the unity pact is fully put in place. By last night there was no response from Mugabe’s camp.
But who is Bennett?
Born Roy Leslie Bennett in 1957, he was one of the country’s top coffee growers before his farm in the east of the country fell to Mugabe’s land seizures.
Bennett is hugely popular among the MDC grassroots, who adore his flawless command of the local Shona language and his defiance. However, he is deeply reviled within Zanu-PF circles, where his role as a policeman of the white settler regime is frequently brought up to discredit him. He is a former colonial policeman
In 2004 Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa told Bennett in Parliament that his Charleswood Estate in Chimanimani would be taken by the government and resettled. Chinamasa then angered Bennett by saying “Mr. Bennett has not forgiven the government for acquiring his farm, but he forgets that his forefathers were thieves and murderers.”
Bennett stood up and walked towards Chinamasa and grabbed the collar
of Chinamasa’s shirt and wrestled him to the floor. He then tried unsuccessfully to punch the then Anti-Corruption Minister Didymus Mutasa who responded by kicking him.
Other MPs then took out guns and threatened to start shooting if they
did not stop fighting. The fight earned him a 12 month jail sentence at the notorious Chikurubi Maximum Prison. The fracas was repeatedly shown on national television.