Roy Bennet has been arrested: MDC

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwean security agents have arrested Roy Bennett, a senior leader of the opposition MDC ahead of a swearing-in ceremony of a new unity cabinet, a party official said on Friday.

"Roy Bennett was arrested a few minutes ago at Charles Prince Airport. I am not sure whether he was arriving or leaving," Ian Makone, a senior MDC official told Reuters. Bennett was nominated as deputy minister of agriculture by new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The Zimbabwe Mail reported of a show down is looming at Pachedu Farm in Manicaland province following the nomination by the MDC-T of Roy Bennett as the deputy minister of agriculture on Tuesday.

Bennett who was the owner of the farm was evicted by war veterans and Zanu (PF) supporters from the farm in 2003 during the infamours land invasions which targeted white owned commercial farmers in Zimbabwe. Following Bennett’s cabinet nomination there is already panic and pandemonium at the farm which used to be one of the major exporters of coffee in the country before it was invaded.

"There is pandemonium at Pachedu farm following the nomination of Bennett by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirayi into cabinet. The people at the farm are not sure of their fate since Bennett is now going to be the deputy minister of agriculture. What is more worrying to the invaders is that Bennett visited the farm when he returned from exile in South Africa two weeks ago," said Chris Muchero, one of the people who occupied the farm.

Some chiefs in the district are also reportedly pushing for the return of Bennett at the farm. Bennett who is a former Member of Parliament for the area was very popular with the local community, whom he used to assist in infrastructure development and food aid. He also would at times avail his high breed bulls for breeding to the locals.

"He was such a fatherly figure to us, that is the reason why we nick-named him Pachedu (togetherness)."

War veterans and Zanu PF looted Bennett’s property including livestock, clothes, farm equipment and crops. Zanu PF Member of Parliament for Chimanimani East, Samuel Undenge and one major Masabeya were implicated in the free for all looting at the farm.

Summing up Bennett’s unceremonious eviction at Pachedu farm at a recent journalists workshop, Mutare based human rights lawyer Trust Mahanda said," Bennett left Pachedu farm with only his under garments."

After three years in self-imposed exile, former lawmaker Roy Bennett is set to become Zimbabwe’s deputy minister for agriculture – six years after his own farm was seized in controversial land reforms.

Bennett was one of only a handful of white parliamentarians when he was elected in 2000 on the ticket of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the party of Zimbabwe’s new Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

His entry into the new unity government marks one of the stranger twists in Zimbabwe’s decade-long drama between the MDC and President Robert Mugabe.

Bennett was born to a farm family in 1957 in the town of Rusape. He eventually started his own coffee plantation in Chimanimani, a lush region near the border with Mozambique, where he grew into one of Zimbabwe’s top exporters of the crop.

A fluent speaker of the majority Shona language, Bennett endeared himself to people in the region, who nicknamed him "Pachedu", meaning "We are one."

When Tsvangirai formed the MDC a decade ago, Bennett was one of the few white farmers to openly declare his support for the party that set out to defeat Mugabe at the ballot box.

He remained outspoken even in the face of great personal challenges.

His Charleswood farm was expropriated under Mugabe’s land reforms in 2003, and the following year he was jailed for eight months for assault after he punched the justice minister during a heated debate in parliament on the land programme.

The sentence was imposed by the parliament then dominated by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, and following his conviction he lost his parliamentary seat.

In 2006, he fled to neighbouring South Africa to escape arrest after being implicated in an alleged plot to assassinate Mugabe.

Police claimed Bennett was the mastermind in the alleged conspiracy, which also implicated MDC lawmaker Giles Mutsekwa, who is set to become co-minister for home affairs on Friday.

The agriculture ministry does not deal directly with the land reform scheme. A separate resettlement ministry oversees the programme, which sought to redress colonial injustices by resettling white-owned farms with black farmers.

The new farmers often lacked experience and were given little government support or a formal title to the land, which prevented them from seeking bank finance for their new farms.

Bennett will be tasked with helping farmers succeed after years of disastrous crops that have left seven million people – more than half the population – dependent on food aid.