Roy Bennet was born in Zimbabwe when it was known as Southern Rhodesia. His family had lived in Rhodesia for decades, and Roy continued the family tradition, working a 7,000 acre coffee farm and raising 900 head of cattle.
In 2000, everything changed for Roy and his wife Heather. Their farm was seized by Mugabe’s forces, who slaughtered their cattle, destroyed their house and displaced 800 people living on his farm. Heather, who was pregnant at the time of the attack, was abused and miscarried.
Roy Bennet didn’t respond by leaving Zimbabwe, as many white farmers did when Mugabe forcibly “redistributed” their land. Instead, he ran for parliament. And won. The predominantly black voters of Chimanimani voted for Bennett, the candidate of the opposition MDC party, 11,410 to 8,072. This election was widely considered rigged in favor of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party – Bennett’s actual popularity in Chimanimani may be significantly stronger.
Roy made a terrible mistake last fall, and shoved Zimbabwean Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa after Chinamasa called Bennett’s late father and grandfather “thieves and murderers” during a parliamentary debate. Rather than try Bennett in the Zimbabwean courts – which would likely have given Bennett a fine or a warning – the Zanu-PF dominated parliament appointed an investigative committee which sentenced Bennett to a year’s hard labor.
When Bennett announced his intentions to defend his parliamentary seat from prison, he was initially denied the right to run, under the grounds that he was “a criminal”. A few weeks before the election, a Zimbabwean judge ruled that Roy could run, and delayed the election until April 30th.
Concerned that the month-long delay would allow Zanu-PF to concentrate forces in Chimanimani, possibly intimidating or harming MDC supporters, Bennett worked out an agreement with the government-appointed electoral commission that allowed Heather Bennett to run for the seat. Heather Bennett began addressing rallies throughout the area, speaking in Shona, and was widely seen as the favorite in the race.
But, in an election widely viewed as fraudulent, Mugabe and Zanu-PF have won a majority, and look close to winning a 2/3rds majority, which will allow them to change the constitution. And Heather Bennett was defeated by the Zanu-PF candidate.
Heather has expressed “shock” over election results and points to irregularities in vote counts in a statement on her website. The Sokwanele blog reports that this shock is widespread, pointing to silence in rural areas, as voters wait to hear the results of votes in rural areas:
“There is substantial evidence of rigging in the rural constituencies and the people of Zimbabwe are now in a state of disbelief and shock. The evidence is damning and all await a statement from the president, Morgan Tsvangirai. Most people are glued to their radios and televisions and the streets in the cities and rural villages are quiet. The delay in announcing the rural figures has left Zimbabweans without access to external communications confused, for the initial figures for urban areas indicated an MDC victory.”
God help the people of Zimbabwe.