Roy Bennett speaks out
By Betha Madhomu
Cape Town - Zimbabwe’s deputy agriculture minister-designate Roy Bennett was on Monday acquitted of a terrorism case that had stifled progress in the country’s coalition government.
In an interview with News24, Bennett revealed his determination to move the country forward and work towards bringing change to Zimbabwe.
News24: You have just been acquitted of a terrorism case that had threatened your life. What can you say about the acquittal? What’s the feeling?
Bennett: Firstly, it’s thanks to God. It is a good triumph over evil. Listen, I’ve always known that I’m innocent and I’m persecuted. But if anything, it has given me more determination to fight for real change in Zimbabwe because, you know, what I’ve been through is what every Zimbabwean goes through all the time.
News24: You mention a very interesting point: you are now determined to fight for real change. How are you going to do that, looking at the situation in Zimbabwe right now?
Bennett: By being resolute and standing by the people, making sure that all the constitutional process takes place, that the media reforms take place. And then once we have a new constitution, we head for the elections and that is what will bring change to Zimbabwe.
News24: And do you think fresh elections will take place in Zimbabwe anytime soon?
Bennett: We can only have fresh elections once we’ve dealt with the commissions leading towards free and fair elections and that is the media commission. To have a free and open media - that is the constitutional commission to be able to allow the constitutional process to take place for a homegrown Zimbabwe constitution to be implemented and then finally, for the electoral supervisory commission which will allow the electoral form to take place for a genuinely free and fair election.
News24: And going back to your trial, can you briefly describe some of your experiences, especially considering the seriousness of the charges that were levelled against you?
Bennett: Obviously when one is under such circumstances, it is incredibly worrying and it is incredibly… You feel anxiety the whole time …to listen to people telling things that are not true. It’s very concerning knowing that it has been a scammed view from the judiciary side. So it was a very, very apprehensive time and a very, very stressful time.
News24: And what was going on in your mind all this time?
Bennett: Basically, it was to think that we're fighting for freedom, we're fighting for a democratic Zimbabwe. I’m being prosecuted because I represent the people, the people that elected me and that I must remain resolute and strong because those are the very people that have made me remain resolute - fighting for real change in Zimbabwe without turning to any form of trying to overthrow the government.
It’s been done democratically. Even though people have been subjected to huge suppression and violence, they have remained resolute in their quest for real change in Zimbabwe, which in turn strengthens me and keeps me going for real change in Zimbabwe and if these are the pitfalls that you come across on the way so be it. At least I’ve stood firm and true in our road towards freedom.
News24: And during the whole process, did it ever occur to you that you would one day be cleared of the terrorism charges? Did you ever expect such a ruling?
Bennett: No, definitely not. I expected this trial to go on and on, especially for the duration of the global political agreement and transitional period. I did not expect to be cleared of the charges.
News24: So what’s your comment then, on the country’s judicial system?
Bennett: Judging from what appeared in the newspapers this morning, there was a front page article in the Herald saying that I had stepped aside from my placement to the deputy minister of agriculture which was totally untrue. I’ve never, ever, said that and in a ruling like this, it shows that there has been political interference.
So hopefully, it is a political direction towards resolving the unresolved issues of the global political agreement and a resolute from the Zanu-PF elite that we need to work together and honour our agreements to move forward, to be able to bring real change to Zimbabweans.
News24: You have raised a very important point about your portfolio being a problem to the Zimbabwe government. What would you say is the major problem concerning your designation as the deputy minister of agriculture?
Bennett: Well, I’m not sure what Zanu-PF’s problems are with me being appointed to deputy minister of agriculture, but there again, it is not my choice, it is not what I want. It is what my party wants. It is what the leadership of the MDC wants. They are the ones that deploy me. If they deploy me to the North Pole, I will go there.
So, I can’t understand what the issues are. I should imagine there are serious things to hide or cover up within the ministry of agriculture and mechanisation, therefore, my presence will expose a lot of this and they don’t want this to happen.
News24: And I think the most exciting thing is that your party, the MDC, has already said you should be sworn in as soon as possible. Do you think this is going to be an easy go?
Bennett: Well, I don’t see why it should not be because there is absolutely no reason for me not being sworn in now. If that’s what my party wants, then it’s up to the president to swear me in.
News24: And if you were sworn in, what’s the first thing you would do within the ministry to make sure it goes back to the vibrancy that defined it years back?
Bennett: As the deputy minister there is nothing much I can do other than to get in and to meet with the minister and understand what the issues are - and then to try, in whatever way possible, to restore agricultural production and move the whole process forward.
News24: But do you think that is possible considering the reports of continued farm invasions and violence in some farms in the country?
Bennett: It is a very difficult task because the whole process of continued farm invasions, continued violence on farms, continued total disrespect for the law is a severe hindrance to the transitional government in being able to encourage investment and move the country forward.
So yes, it is a serious challenge indeed but challenges are there to overcome and advocate for working transparently, accountably and resonantly towards restoring the agriculture back into the hands of agriculturalists who are farmers, who are skilled at farming and who are able to produce the goods.
News24: Going back to your trial, what would you say your acquittal means to the Zimbabwe government?
Bennett: I think it is a significant indication that we are moving forward to implementing the outstanding issues of the global political agreement and it is very welcome… but absolutely, there was no other way. I was innocent and you know you can’t trump up something and start charges out there with absolutely nothing to substantiate it.
So, more than anything for the government, it is the significant indication to the Zanu-PF that they can no longer single handedly trump up charges and persecute someone for something that has not existed.
News24: So what’s the next move? What’s the way forward?
Bennett: I just need to hear what’s going to happen and then once I know, I will act according to my leadership. Whatever my leadership decides that’s where I will go.
News24: And what do you think are the major issues rocking Zimbabwe right now?
Bennett: The most severe issue rocking Zimbabwe at the moment is the fact that these continued farm invasions have carried on, the continued disrespect of the rule of law and the fact that indigenisation has been gazetted but wasn’t passed through cabinet. These things are very negative things towards engaging investment and growth inside Zimbabwe to be able to create a better life for most Zimbabweans.