On Behind the Headlines SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma speaks to MDC Treasurer General Roy Bennett. Almost 20 months ago he was nominated by his party to be the Deputy Agriculture Minister but Mugabe’s regime have simply refused to have him sworn into the post. Lance finds out why the saga will not end? Does he think it was a mistake for the MDC to join the coalition government? What are his views on the diamond industry and alleged infighting within the MDC?

Interview broadcast 21 October 2010

Lance Guma: Good evening Zimbabwe you are listening to Behind the Headlines. My guest this week is the MDC Treasurer General Roy Bennett. Almost 20 months ago he was nominated by his party as the deputy agriculture minister but with the political soap opera that is Zimbabwe, Mugabe the man who lost the last credible elections has refused to swear him in citing a dubious court case in which Roy was eventually acquitted. Roy, thank you for joining us on the programme.

Roy Bennett: Pleasure, thank you Lance.

Guma: Now the High Court acquitted you on charges of terrorism, banditry and insurgency. The entire world heard Mugabe tell CNN you would be sworn in to government once you were acquitted, why hasn’t this happened?

Bennett: Lance I think for reasons known to the military junta ruling Zimbabwe. I think Mugabe is a senile old man, he no longer has control of events in Zimbabwe and the military junta, that forced him into the run-off and committed the atrocities throughout the length and breadth of Zimbabwe to secure the false election of Mugabe in the so-called president run-off, call the shots and basically as far as they are concerned they don’t want me sworn in because any form of admission to anything from the MDC reflects upon the people as a transfer of power and that’s one of the issues.

Guma: Now in September we reported on complaints from your lawyer, Beatrice Mtetwa who revealed that plainclothes policemen visited several properties owned by you. The next we heard was that the judge who cleared you, Justice Chinembiri Bhunu was claiming you defamed him. What was that all about?

Bennett: That’s an absolute load of rubbish Lance. As far as I understand it and from what I’ve seen from the documents sent to me by Beatrice is that the Zimbabwe Guardian which is an internet, one of these internet ZANU PF sites I am alleged to have made a statement to them. I have never spoken to them in my life and it’s around that statement that Justice Bhunu is suing me. (Bennett is alleged to have said the judge hearing the case was compromised and he would not get a fair trial.)

Guma: Now there has been speculation over why of all the ministers appointed by Tsvangirai you became the one the regime chose to target, is this a race issue? Is it Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa still harbouring bitterness because you pushed him in parliament all those years ago? What is it?

Bennett: It’s the deep-seated racism within and inside ZANU PF and Mugabe. It’s also the deep-seated hatred of honesty and transparency. They don’t want anything that will expose the truth of what has taken place with inside the agricultural ministry in Zimbabwe and with inside the government whilst ZANU PF were ruling and when they brought it to the knees before the MDC went into the Global Political Agreement to give people hope again and to give them food in the shelves and to give them a currency that operates.

Guma: Let’s say hypothetically you had been sworn in as deputy agriculture minister, what are some of the issues you would have wanted to see addressed?

Bennett: Well I think the first thing you need to address is the production of agriculture, the timely access to inputs for legitimate agriculturists and growers across the length and breadth of Zimbabwe. I think it is vital that that is addressed initially and then to expose the total corrupt patronage that has taken place or the totally skewed political handout of farms and farming equipment to the political elite that has never even touched the people in Zimbabwe.

Guma: Do you think having said that the agriculture ministry was a very sensitive area for them and they would not have wanted a former commercial farmer like yourself in the ministry?

Bennett: Absolutely, well they wouldn’t have wanted anybody who would have exposed any form of truth of what’s taken place, of the vast quantities of farm equipment, massive combine harvesters and tractors lying in the yards of Patrick Chinamasa and Joseph Made in Headlands, in warehouses in Harare where there’s masses of equipment that was acquired through the Reserve Bank, Gideon Gono, where they just used state funds and allocated them to political individuals. Obviously they don’t want that exposed and they don’t want that brought to the public eye.

Guma: You spoke earlier on Roy about hardliners in ZANU PF, a lot of people feel it’s an argument that gets Mugabe off the hook because they wouldn’t get away with what they’re doing if they didn’t have his consent.

Bennett: Well I don’t think it’s got anything to do with his consent at all. I think it’s to do with the ruling military junta and I think it’s your Sidney Sekeramayi, your Emerson Mnangagwa and then the military generals around appointments in the securocracy, plus you know the Brigadier General Sangos of this world that are controlling the whole process of what happens in Zimbabwe.

Guma: So do you believe Mugabe has simply become a figurehead in the power matrix?

Bennett: Absolutely, you watch an interview where he stays awake for more than 20 to 30 minutes without falling asleep. He’s an old man, he’s way past his time, and it’s basically these people that are driving the process and he’s the figurehead to legitimise that junta.

Guma: Now two weeks ago Tsvangirai addressed a press conference at which he basically stood up to Mugabe and his unilateral appointments of governors, judges and ambassadors. Was it a case of the PM finally doing the right thing because people were beginning to think he was getting too comfortable with Mugabe?

Bennett: Well I think all along the prime minister has been very strong on the fact that the Global Political Agreement needs to be implemented to the letter and the word and I think the unilateral appointment again shows the hand of the military junta because Mugabe would be meeting with the PM assuring him of things and yet behind the scenes there’s a completely different scenario developing and therefore the unilateral appointments that have taken place over time outside the Global Political Agreement and outside SADC’s endorsement.

If we look back Lance, and we look back at the last SADC Summit it was clearly a resolution that came out of that SADC Summit that the governors would be appointed to the letter and the word of the Global Political Agreement under the formula agreed in that Agreement and SADC pushed that issue. Not only has Mugabe totally ignored the letter and word of the Global Political Agreement he has totally dismissed SADC as a nothing and gone ahead with these unilateral appointments.

Guma: Do you think the stand off over the appointments, where has that left the coalition government because technically it seems the arrangement is dead, there’s no good will, Mugabe is doing as he pleases, the state media have accelerated their hate speech and the constitutional outreach basically has showed the violent DNA of ZANU PF? Is there a government to talk of as things stand?

Bennett: Well there’s the Global Political Agreement arrangement that stands and of course that government is in existence and must remain there as is towards election and the focus is now on elections. You will see that Mugabe has now come out and announced the fact of elections, MDC is ready to meet those dates of elections and basically all that needs to be ensured now is that there’s an absence of state interference in those elections and an absence of violence and there’s a history that’s taken us to this Global Political Agreement that SADC have underwritten and that SADC are basically responsible for.

And that is a violence-free election where the people of Zimbabwe are able to choose a government of their choice. And therein lies the challenge Lance as to whether SADC, the African Union and the world at large are going to sit by and watch another violent election take place, another unleashing of state apparatus upon innocent people of Zimbabwe who wish to enter into an election and vote in a government of their own choice.

Guma: Do you not think maybe the MDC has relied too much on SADC and to some extent the African Union when over the years it’s been proven these regional blocs will always support Mugabe no matter what?

Bennett: I don’t think that’s quite correct Lance, I don’t think that’s quite correct at all. SADC is a body of which Zimbabwe is part of and the MDC are part of SADC, like it or not, that’s where we are and unless we have faith in our own institutions and unless we put trust in our own African brothers nothing is going to come to the fore so all of these things are a process.

You’ve got to go down the road to be able to expose what’s there and that’s basically what the MDC has done. What option did the MDC have other than to go into this arrangement? To allow the country of Zimbabwe to implode? To allow the people of Zimbabwe to suffer to a worse degree of what they were suffering when this Global Political Agreement was signed?

The issues around the people of Zimbabwe, it’s around lives, it’s around suffering and sure, you might not have everything in your way but at least the MDC through the leadership of the prime minister are trying to make sure that we go through a democratic process in Zimbabwe that delivers the peoples’ will without violence and without huge suffering of the people.

Whether that will be avoided at the end of the day or not, who knows Lance but let’s just put it on record and the evidence is there to see that the MDC have done everything in their power to try and restore legitimacy to the Zimbabwean people, to open the hand of friendship to Robert Mugabe and ZANU PF, to the human rights abusers in Zimbabwe, the military who’ve killed people unilaterally, two sets of ethnic cleansing, the ethnic cleansing of Matabeleland and the 20,000 murders that took place there in the ‘80’s, the ethnic cleansing of the whites on the pretext of land, these are issues that are severe human rights abuses that have taken place.

Yet the MDC went into this government to offer a hand of joining to build a country and make things better for the average Zimbabwean and let’s face it, things have got better for the average Zimbabwean, enter the MDC into the Global Political Agreement. But what the future holds, what other violence is going to be unleashed and how it all ends up towards the suffering of the Zimbabwean people, the MDC and Morgan Tsvangirai are on record as having tried their best to make the best of a very bad situation, to ease the suffering of the Zimbabwean people.

Guma: Now if I may move on to another subject, much has been made in the media of alleged infighting within the MDC, the media occasionally accuse the Secretary General Tendai Biti of trying to unseat Tsvangirai as party leader. As somebody who’s inside the ranks of power in the MDC, is there any truth in these reports?

Bennett: Well I think anybody who understands the animal called ZANU PF, the intelligence organisation called the CIO, its a mere fact that they are trying to create a further split in the MDC, they are trying to create falsehoods in order to look as if there’s lack of unity in the MDC. We’ve just finished a strategic meeting, there was a meeting in South Africa, I’ve never seen the MDC more united and more focussed on its goal to deliver for the people of Zimbabwe and basically what ZANU PF is doing using the CIOs to try to hide behind its own divisions.

If we look at ZANU PF as it sits today you have Brigadier General, the commander of the army Chiwenga as the blue eyed boy, Rex Nhongo, Major, Brigadier General Mujuru having been sidelined, pushed out the way. You have Emerson Mnangagwa and Sidney Sekeramayi calling the political side of things and telling Mugabe what to do with the support of the likes of Chiwenga, there’s massive infighting within ZANU PF and all is not well there so as far as the MDC are concerned it’s never been more united and there’s never been such a thing as infighting. It is the CIO trying to portray something that’s not there.

Guma: Do you think the party has been infiltrated by moles or people of a dubious character who are working to undermine the party? There’s some suggestion some party officials are becoming comfortable and getting trapped by the trappings of power, posh cars, lots of money, corruption – is this setting into the party?

Bennett: Most definitely not Lance. If you look at, you’ll always in every party anywhere in the world, have opportunists and people that are in there to infiltrate and feed back to he who pays the dollar so they’ll always be there but surely they’re a very small minority and certainly have absolutely no influence or say onto the political machinery of the MDC.

You know the whole issue of the smart cars is one that needs to be put to bed. When the MDC went into the Global Political Agreement, all those vehicles had been purchased already by the Reserve Bank governor, they are the property of the government of Zimbabwe, they had nothing to do with the MDC, they were there.

There’s no ways the government as it stands today are going to sell those vehicles and if the MDC did not take those vehicles and use them how are they to move around and what were they to do? All those vehicles would go to ZANU PF so I think, let’s be fair on what the MDC have achieved and focus on what they have done and moved for the people of Zimbabwe and forget about petty issues about vehicles that were purchased by the ZANU PF regime and certainly would never have been purchased by an MDC government.

Guma: Right let me move on to another issue which I think is right up your alley – the discovery of diamonds in the country. Instead of ushering in a new era of prosperity it’s become a curse with people in the military and others connected to ZANU PF plundering the resource. Now your farm, Charleswood Estate was taken from you several years ago and we hear diamonds have been discovered there. I’d like to get your thoughts on the diamond industry in Zimbabwe.

Bennett: Well again very sadly it’s a game of money and it’s a game of corruption and it’s a game of the region, it’s a game of South Africans involved with corrupt ZANU PF officials around illegal concessions. If you have a look at the Marange Concession where you have Mbada and Canadile, both those concessions are illegal, they were never signed off by the minister of Economic Investment.

Those are illegal concessions and entry into foreigners looting the wealth of the people of Zimbabwe is evident for everybody to see. The real benefactors of the Marange diamonds should be the Marange people. Instead of moving the people from Marange somewhere else and allowing foreigners to come in and plunder the wealth of Zimbabwe, that should belong and should be uplifting the community of Marange and the same with the diamonds on Charleswood.

I mean had I still been the owner of Charleswood and discovered those diamonds certainly they would have played a major role in the upliftment of the Chimanimani community, of the Ngorima and Chikuku communal lands and back to the people that live in those areas and the nation in a greater good on a social agenda by using the natural resources to empower people. Instead you have Russians mining in conjunction with ZANU PF heavyweights, looting what basically belongs to the Zimbabwean people.

Guma: Do you think the MDC could have done more within government to highlight some of these things because there’s a feeling they’ve been slightly quiet and not as vociferous in exposing most of these things?

Bennett: Well I think they have been speaking out but it’s just never been pushed out as far as the government’s concerned. I think we will see more and more as time goes by of the MDC’s part in government involved in exposing the total illegality of those concessions and the fact that the people of Zimbabwe are being denied their natural resources.

The MDC has talked about nationalising those mines and handing them back to the people with credible developers coming in and moving them in that way so the MDC has come out and said that and I’m sure that going down the road there will be more involvement to expose that total farce.

Guma: And my final question for you Roy, you are currently out of the country, you have a judge back in Zimbabwe who’s trying to have you charged for defaming him, you’ve got CIOs, plain clothes policemen visiting your properties so we do know where this is going. Will you be going back?

Bennett: I will. You know I rely on my leadership and the decision that comes out of there Lance. I’m certainly not going back to go to Zimbabwe, to go back to jail where I can be ineffective in the position that I was chosen by the people so it all depends on the whole political landscape moving forward, we’re going into an election and if my time is better served outside the country travelling the nations of the world to raise resources to fight the Mugabe regime, so be it, that’s what I will do. So I wait and will hear from my party who I am a member of as to which is the best route that I should take.

Guma: Well Zimbabwe, that’s the MDC Treasurer General Roy Bennett. Just to remind you almost 20 months ago he was nominated by his party as the deputy agriculture minister but the political soap opera that is Zimbabwe, Mugabe has refused to do so. Roy thank you so much for taking time to talk to us.

Bennett: Pleasure Lance, thank you very much.