White Zimbabwean takes a stand
Three generations of Roy Bennett's family have owned farms amid the rocky outcrops jutting up between the pine and wattle trees here. He is popular in town, and speaks fluent Shona, the main language of the black majority. Mr. Bennett is just one of the locals, he even has a Shona nickname - Pachedu, meaning "together."Skip to next paragraph
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But he is white and defiant. And in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF Party and an army of war veterans are meting out violent punishment to opponents, both qualities make him a target.
In the past three months, more than 1,200 white-owned farms have been occupied, four white farmers have been killed, and some 20 others have died in the violence.
But despite Mr. Mugabe's announcement May 16 that parliamentary elections will take place on June 24 and 25, many doubt just how fair they will be - and how soon the violence and intimidation will end.
Against this backdrop of fear and retaliation, Bennett took a stand in a dramatic confrontation last week. Bennett had switched camps from Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, and decided to run on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change ticket.
This infuriated ZANU-PF officials, because ZANU-PF's present, unpopular candidate is retiring, and they say Bennett has a real chance to win.
On May 4, party thugs attacked the house of Bennett's campaign manager, James Mukwaya, smashing all the windows and damaging the roof.
Then last week, the local head of ZANU-PF led about 50 party supporters armed with sticks and machetes in an invasion of Bennett's farm. His workers were rounded up and forced to chant ZANU-PF slogans, according to Rocky Stone, the farm manager who later fled.
"Pamberi ZANU-PF, [Forward with ZANU PF]," one of the invaders shouted in Shona at one of Bennett's farm workers.
The farm worker pumped his clenched fist in the air and shouted "Pamberi Pachedu," using Bennett's Shona name. The astounded slogan-master again shouted the ZANU-PF cry - to which the farm worker again responded "Forward with Pachedu!"
To save the farm worker from a lashing, a woman falsely indicated with a hand gesture that the man was crazy. The slogan-master believed her and moved on.
But they taunted other workers, forcing them to say "MDC" and to spit on the ground. One "didn't spit enough, so they pulled him out and beat him with sticks," another man says. The invaders demanded a meeting, saying that Bennett could either stand down as a candidate or he and his family would be killed.
The meeting was held May 11 at the Chimanimani Country Club, where Bennett was met by the local head of the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO), the local head of ZANU-PF, two war veterans, the police, an official from the Ministry of National Affairs, and a pick-up truck loaded with 10 men in ZANU-PF T-shirts. "I want you to tell the people to vote for ZANU-PF.... The ex-combatants can hit and they can kill," said one obviously drunk man who identified himself as comrade Cobra. After their closed-door meeting, the National Affairs official, a Mr. Ndzama (who refused to provide his full name) said Bennett was free to stay on his farm and would be safe.
Bennett emerged from the confrontation red-faced and angry: "They said I was aligned with MDC, and I am a traitor. They said I had betrayed ZANU-PF."
The more important message: Bennett could withdraw from the election or potentially lose his and his family's lives.
Undaunted, Bennett insists, "They can take my farm, but I am still running [for Parliament]."