Courage and Determination

"Slugger" Bennett is now well known for his pugilistic talents and his relationship with the Chimanimani community. His local name is Pachanu - which means "One with us" and as with all local Shona nicknames it has a deeper meaning than a simple English name. Roy is Zimbabwe born, raised on a farm and spoke Shona as his first language. Even now I sometimes think he thinks in Shona and he certainly struggles a bit in English.

He saved his money and realized a life long dream when he bought "Charleswood" Estate in the Chimanimani District in the 80's. Typical of Roy he did not do the usual farmer thing - he first went to the local tribal leadership, introduced himself properly and then asked for permission to buy the property. He also had to ask the Mugabe government for their OK and this was given in the form of a legal document from the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture which stated that the government had no interest in the property for resettlement purposes.

Having secured the required legal OK and the approval of the traditional leaders Roy went ahead and bought his dream. It was 3000 hectares of wild, hilly country with the most breathtaking views of the Chimanimani Mountains. There was about 300 hectares of arable land and Roy put in a coffee plantation on that - the rest he fenced and began a cattle operation and a lodge for tourists.

In order to help his neighbors - the local peasant farmer's who were on land next to him; he started an "out growers" scheme with each family growing a small area of coffee - enough for them to care for as a family. Roy provided the know how, the seedlings, tractors and tillage and then fertilizer and whatever insecticides were required. When his own and the local communal farmers crop was mature he built a coffee mill on the farm and started a marketing scheme for the coffee under his own brand in Europe.

As you can imagine - the presence and activity of a man like this was a significant development in the District. In 1998, the local leadership of Zanu PF asked Roy to be their candidate in the area and he agreed. The only problem was that when the MDC was launched in late 1999, the local people came to Roy and said they wanted him to run as their candidate - but not for Zanu, but for the MDC. Mystified, Roy approached the leadership of the MDC who, after a full investigation decided that this was a bona fide case and Roy was accepted as the MDC candidate. Just politics, Roy thought.

Zanu sneered at the arrogance of this local "Mukiwa" or "Marungu" thinking he could win a seat against the Zanu monolith which up to then had controlled virtually all the seats in the region - the exception being the seats in the Ndau area just to the south of Chimanimani. Then came the referendum result and four months later Roy took the seat with a massive majority. Zanu was stunned. They were even more discomforted when this white man, who spoke pure colloquial Shona started to participate in debates on a wide range of issues in Parliament.

The order went out from Zanu PF headquarters in Harare - this man must be stopped. The attacks started. In an early incident Heather, Roy's beautiful and long-suffering wife was so distressed she lost her third baby - they already had a boy and a girl. Since then the attacks have continued - day and night.

Roy established a local MDC District office in the village - it has been ransacked at least 6 times, yesterday it was burned to the ground. The farm has been invaded and then vacated on numerous occasions - never by local people, always by people from outside the District. The staff on the farm - some 300 workers and their families, has resisted the invasions - in some cases paying with their lives and risking and receiving savage beatings. Finally, when an Army General was appointed governor of the Manica Province he ordered the occupation of the property by military personnel and Roy's eviction from the District.

This was completed a few weeks ago and Roy's long suffering and loyal staff are still sitting in the bush after their eviction and dispossession of all their property by the Zanu thugs who occupied the property. I do not know what Roy lost in the exercise but it runs into billions of Zimbabwe dollars - even at 5000 to 1, this is a considerable sum of money. The occupation is illegal (Roy has won every legal case he has taken to the High Court), totally violent and destructive.

The local people asked what they could do? They sent a Nanga to the farm and he "protected" the house, the lodge and the farm buildings. Those of us who have grown up in Africa do not laugh at such things - of the 15 thugs who were the original "invaders", 12 have died. The District Administrator (a key political figure) was found dead in his shower last week. A vehicle loaded with government workers coming to the farm last Monday turned over at the farm gate - all on board were injured.

Then came the fracas in Parliament - Chinamasa insulted Roy, said he would never be allowed back into Chimanimani. It was too much, Roy (who is a big man) walked over to the Minister and pushed him to the ground, he was then assaulted from behind by Mutasa - Roy' turned to see who it was and then put him on the floor. Cameras were running and ZBC had the stupidity to put the whole thing on to local TV that night. Roy was an instant hero. He did what we have all wanted to do for the past 4 years. Roy spoke at a MDC rally on Tuesday last week he was given a hero's welcome by 15 000 plus people.

On Friday the regime sent in a force of about 2000 men from outside the district. They were intended to show case a local "demonstration" against Roy Bennett in his actual constituency. Roy had warning and phoned through to his people to say, leave town. When rent-a-mob arrived not an MDC activist was in sight. They proceeded to the long suffering MDC office and trashed it, finally burning it to the ground. Then, frustrated that they could not find any immediate MDC targets they marched down to the home of Mr. and Mrs. Kidd. Shane Kidd runs his own sawmill in the area and is a well-known MDC activist. He was not at home, but his wife was.

She was hauled out of the house by this mob, beaten and then forced to walk through the village before they forced her to clean up the mess at the MDC office. All of this to a grey haired women who was old enough to be their mother. The Police watched and laughed with the rest. And guess what, a ZBC camera crew just happened to be on site - hundreds of kilometers from their home base. They filmed the whole shameful episode.

At 16.30 hrs Mrs. Kidd was allowed back to her smashed home. I watched the TV news last night - it was not covered. I think they suddenly woke up to the fact that they had a problem. Mrs. Kidd is a Finn. I called her last night on the phone - she was "fine" she said, was more determined than ever and felt that now "she could move mountains." I told her she was wonderful and that we were praying for them both. Shane has been to prison several times in the past 4 years - just because of his unswerving support for Roy and the MDC and what we stand for.

We are Zanu's worst nightmare - we will not hide, we will not run, we will not give in. We love our country and its people and we are here to stay, all it takes is a bit of courage and determination. It also takes faith - we have that as well, why? Because in the end we win!

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 29th May 2004