Roy Bennett acquittal shows independence of Zimbabwe judiciary
A judgment that cleared Roy Bennett of terrorism and theft charges Monday signals a new autonomy in Zimbabwe's judicial system. But it does 't mean that President Robert Mugabe is ready to accept Bennett in his government.
The acquittal of Roy Bennett, a senior member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is a test case of President Robert Mugabe’s commitment to the shaky government of national unity (GNU), political analysts say.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
President Robert Mugabe had refused to swear in Bennett as the new agriculture deputy minister until he was cleared by the courts. Bennett’s swearing in as a deputy minister has been one of the outstanding issues of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) which paved the way for Zimbabwe's 2008 power-sharing government.
But while Bennett’s acquittal is a relief to the MDC, it is not a sign of better times to come, political analysts say.
“His acquittal will somehow lubricate the process,” says Eldred Masunungure, a political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare. “But it would be too simplistic to say that it will end the crisis in unity government, as there are other outstanding issues which are still to be addressed.”
Other outstanding issues include appointments of provincial governors, of the Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana, and sanctions imposed on Mugabe and his cronies by the West.
Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the two MDC party formations, which make up the unity government, have set up a delegation to plead for the removal of sanctions. The delegation had to postpone a meeting with the European Union last month after flights were grounded because of the Iceland volcanic ash.
Will Mugabe swear-in Bennett?
It is highly likely, Masunungure says, that Mugabe will continue to refuse to swear-in Bennett, despite his acquittal. “His acquittal has removed the legal impediment but the political obstacle is still there,” says Masunungure. “ZANU-PF does not want him deputy minister of agriculture because he is a white former commercial farmer. I strongly believe that ZANU-PF will find other reasons to scuttle his swearing-in, in the process setting a collision course with the MDC.”
The MDC, for its part, says it expects Bennett to be sworn in this week.
“And this week, Zimbabweans expect the swearing-in of their deputy minister of Agriculture so that he begins the national duty of assisting in mitigating yet another season of hunger and starvation in most parts of the country,” said the MDC in a statement.
Newfound judicial independence
“Firstly, this means that the judiciary is slowly becoming autonomous,” says University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer John Makumbe. “And secondly, it also shows that the case against Bennett was hopelessly weak. They were just trumped up charges.”