MDC’s Bennett charged with ‘banditry, sabotage’

The treason charges against Zimbabwe ministerial nominee Roy Bennett have been dropped and replaced with attempt to commit terrorism, banditry and sabotage, his lawyer said on Sunday.

”The police must have realised that they had no leg to stand on. Their case would not hold water,” said Trust Maanda.

”Bennett is currently being interviewed by the police. He is now appearing in court on Monday facing fresh charges,” added Maanda.

Bennett is a member of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), which struck a power-sharing deal with veteran President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party.

Designated to become deputy agriculture minister, Bennett was arrested on Friday at an airport outside Harare shortly before Mugabe swore in new ministers for the unity government.

The power-sharing government will see the country’s bitter enemies try and work together to pull Zimbabwe out of a deep crisis marked by hunger, the world’s highest inflation rate and a deadly cholera epidemic.

Bennett is a coffee farmer from Chimanimani, a lush region near Mozambique. He had returned last month from three years of self-imposed exile in South Africa, where he fled to escape charges of plotting to kill Mugabe.

South African President Kgalema Motlanthe criticised Benett’s arrest on Saturday.

Speaking in Welkom, Motlanthe said: ”Today I received a call, a desperate call from Zimbabwe because one of the leaders who was supposed to be sworn in as one of the ministers had been detained. We had to put in a word to say ‘You don’t do that, you can’t detain someone who is supposed to be your partner in building a new government’.”

He said Zimbabweans were arguably one of the most educated people on the continent and that the country’s economic recovery may be much faster than anticipated.

Food first
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s rural poor have little interest in the latest political developments in their country, all they want is an end to hunger and diseases.

”I do not want to talk about politics,” said Florence Munyaradzi, a farmer from the south-eastern village of Gutu.

”Things used to be fine. Now we depend on donor organisations for food, farming inputs and everything,” said the 37-year-old mother.

Like the majority of Zimbabwean rural poor, her husband is unemployed and the family depends on rations of the mielie meal, cooking oil, beans and salt to survive.

Years of hardship have made the gaunt mother reluctant to talk about politics, to the point of not being aware that Morgan Tsvangirai is now the new prime minister.

Her children face a bleak future as they spend most of their time herding cattle or performing household chores instead of going to school.

Schools in the district remain closed as teachers demand salaries in foreign currency to cushion them against runaway inflation which has rendered the local currency worthless.

According to aid organisations, the rural poor had been the hardest hit by the political and economical situation.

”We call upon the government to channel resources towards fighting malaria and avoid the development of another outbreak, while we are still struggling to contain cholera and feed the people,” said Oxfam
district administrator, Makepeace Mzenda.

Harare blames the shortfall on drought, but critics put much of the blame on its agricultural policy begun eight years ago.

In Mazuru, a semi-arid area 290km south-east Harare, villagers depend on farming crops that require little rain like groundnuts and sorghum — which are exchanged for maize at harvest time.

However, this year’s farming season was the bleakest as people could not afford to buy or access inputs for crops.

”We have two dams here … I hope one day we will be able to have a big irrigation scheme which will provide employment for us,” said Thomas Chirambamuriwo.

”We are tired of living off handouts,” said the barefoot unemployed youth.

In his inauguration speech on Wednesday, Tsvangirai promised additional emergency food distribution and an end to distribution according to political lines.

”The transitional government will make food more available and more affordable by removing all duties on foodstuffs imported into the country,” said Tsvangirai.

”In the short term, we will convene a food summit of all relevant stake holders to help us ensure that no Zimbabwean goes hungry,” he added.

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Boyd Webb
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