The decision of the Magistrate in Mutare yesterday to imprison Roy Bennett is yet another example of the wilful disregard that Zanu PF has for the welfare of the country and its citizens. First the facts:
Roy has been threatened, had to flee for his life and cross the border illegally, lived as a refugee in South Africa and been imprisoned and harassed. His farm (his only asset) along with his cattle and a thriving coffee business has been confiscated and ransacked, the homestead burned and a lodge on the property destroyed. His wife was beaten and lost the baby she was carrying.
He is a born Zimbabwean and has fully integrated himself into the life and cultures of the country. His investments were all authorised by the Government after Independence in 1980 and paid for in cash.
The charges on which he has just been accused and set down for a High Court trial in 2010 are so ridiculous that they are almost laughable. The arms charges relate to the attempt, three years ago to charge and convict a local arms dealer with the same charges, even though they detained this individual for three years they could not build a case against him and in the end the charges were dropped.
Now they accuse Roy of the same false and malicious crimes. They originally accused him of a 'plot' to assassinate the State President - by pouring oil on the road to Mutare. Completely without basis and absurd they seem to have dropped this charge in the latest Court hearing while retaining the lesser charge of procuring arms of war.
They have made these false accusations for the past year and remanded Roy on bail on a regular basis - then finally when they ran out of excuses for not going to trial they set the date for the start of this trial - Tuesday the 13th October and when Roy arrived with his team, he was confronted with the ploy to rearrest him, detain him and take the case to the High Court on the pretext that these are so serious as charges that the Magistrate cannot deal with the case. The fact is that they still do not have case against him even though they have been desperately searching for people who will testify against him.
While they dragged their heels in setting a date for the case, they lost no time in his arrest and detention and this morning I have heard that he is being held in Prison in leg irons.
This is a step too far for the rogue elements in the Transitional Government. This act comes after months of wrangling over unlawful appointments, the failure to appoint Governors in regions where the respective Parties won a majority, failure to consult on key appointments and a refusal to convene the National Security Council and disband the Joint Operations Command.
Violence has continued, trumped up charges against Members of Parliament and other leaders of the MDC have gone on unabated and Zanu PF is refusing to co-operate with its partners in the Government in the constitutional, electoral and media reform programme. As a consequence progress has been slow or non existent and the International Community reticent about re-engagement even though this is a key to recovery.
So today, the MDC National Executive meets in Harare once again to decide what to do in these circumstances. It had to come to this sooner or later, but the Bennett issue will now be the catalyst for a change in strategy for the MDC and a renewed crisis for the region.
I do not think we will pull out of the Transitional Government, but believe me, it's not business as usual for this Government. Regional consultations are inevitable and the much delayed meeting of the SADC Troika is now probably going to take place. When it does meet it will be confronted with many crucial decisions and responsibilities.
Bulawayo, 15th October 2009