"Whether he likes it or not Mugabe's time is coming to an end" – Bennet

Roy Bennett, a Zimbabwean politician who has come under repeated attack from President Robert Mugabe, said the long-time leader's rule is coming to an end.

Bennett, whose stalled appointment as deputy agriculture minister has threatened to grind the country’s power-sharing government to a halt, told an audience in Johannesburg that he is confident Zimbabwe’s next elections will be peaceful and remove the 86-year-old Mugabe’s ZANU-PF from power.

"For ZANU-PF to use violence in the next election is going to be nigh impossible," Bennett said.

"I disagree (that) they can steal the next election," he said. "It is us that control the process. We the people of Zimbabwe. And no one is going to force their will on us."

Zimbabweans "have chosen the peaceful way in seeing out a dictatorship", he said.

Bennett, a top aide to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has been one of the major stumbling blocks for Tsvangirai’s uneasy partnership with Mugabe in a compromise government formed after violent and inconclusive elections in 2008.

The power-sharing deal was meant to steer the country toward a new constitution and fresh elections, but the constitution-making process has been marred by renewed violence and a date for elections has not been set.

Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s ruler since independence in 1980, has refused to allow Bennett, a 53-year-old white farmer, to take up his appointment as Tsvangirai’s pick for deputy agriculture minister in the unity government.

Bennett was arrested just an hour before Mugabe swore in the compromise cabinet in February 2009. He was charged with terrorism for allegedly plotting to overthrow Mugabe.

Bennett was acquitted in May, but prosecutors are appealing the decision.

Speaking at Johannesburg’s University of the Witwatersrand in a public conversation with Peter Godwin, the author of a new book critical of Mugabe, Bennett said the Zimbabwean president fears him because he is a white man who appeals to black voters.

Bennett, a fluent speaker of the majority Shona language, is popular with his constituents, who have nicknamed him "Pachedu", meaning "We are one".

"Everything that I stand for Robert Mugabe abhors," Bennett said Thursday.

"I have a very strong constituency. I’m a farmer. I happen to be white. I happen to be a third-generation Zimbabwean. It flaunts all the conceptions that he’s been trying to put out that someone like me would have a constituency and a following from the Zimbabwean people spontaneously."

Bennett said he has been in exile in South Africa since he learned in September that police were looking to re-arrest him, the second time in four years he has fled across the border to avoid arrest.

"I don’t feel I’d serve…the interest of my constituency sitting in prison in Zimbabwe," he said.