Mugabe foe flees to London after ‘death threats’
by Tom Harper
LONDON, United Kingdom – A key opponent of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe has been forced to flee to London after he received death threats, the Standard can reveal.
Roy Bennett, 54, moved his family to central London after they were targeted by thugs thought to have been employed by the dictator.
The white former coffee farmer is popular with black Zimbabweans and is seen by some as capable of healing the country’s racial divides.
Mr Bennett, who is a leading member of the opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change, was acquitted last year of plotting to overthrow President Mugabe.
The case against Mr Bennett hinged on the evidence of Peter Hitschmann, a former policeman and arms dealer. Prosecutors produced emails which they said proved the former farmer had conspired to buy weapons.
But during the trial Mr Hitschmann disowned the emails and said he had been tortured.
Despite clearing his name, Mr Bennett was forced to flee Zimbabwe after his family received “constant” death threats.
A spokesman told the Standard: “Roy is in London to help finish the job Zimbabwe’s people started in the last democratic election – won by the MDC and stolen by Mugabe.
“With its historic links, Britain and indeed London, is the best place for Roy to do this as he can no longer live in his beloved Zimbabwe.”
Mr Bennett has been a persistent irritant for Mugabe since his farm was seized by government-backed militias in 2000. He claims that many of his employees were killed and the stress of the attack caused his wife to miscarry.
Mr Bennett is perhaps best known for losing his temper with Justice Minister and Mugabe ally Patrick Chinamasa in 2004 in a row over the land redistribution programme, which saw most of the country’s 4,000 white farmers lose their land.
Mr Chinamasa called Mr Bennett’s forefathers “thieves and murderers” and claimed that he deserved to lose his farm after benefiting from a British colonial system that robbed black Zimbabweans of their land.
In the heat of the argument, Mr Bennett pushed the minister to the ground and was sentenced to 15 months in prison – an experience he described as a living hell.
Shortly after he returned from two years’ exile in South Africa, he was arrested again on suspicion of treason in February 2009 – just as he was about to become a minister in the fragile coalition government between the MDC and Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party. –