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Zimbabwe's Roy Bennett, Political Lightning Rod, Returning to South African Exile


Bennettt said that with the political climate growing more contentious by the day, Bennett said he is wary of further judicial actions against him - but added time is running out for his alleged persecutors, who he said would end up in the dock at the International Criminal Court in the Hague one day

Zimbabwean Senator Roy Bennettt, treasurer general of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, said Thursday that he has decided to return to exile in South Africa fearing alleged relentless judicial persecution by President Robert Mugabe's former ruling ZANU-PF party.

Bennett first sought political asylum in South Africa in 2006 after the state implicated him in an alleged plot to assassinate President Mugabe during a visit to Mutare, in eastern Manicaland province, where Bennett once worked a commercial farm before losing it to land reform, subsequently representing the constituency of Chimanimani.

He spent eight months in the infamous Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison in 2004-2005 under a parliamentary bill of attainder for shoving Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa on the House floor in a 22003 debate on land reform.

Bennett was arrested again in February 2009 upon returning to Zimbabwe after 2008 elections gave the combined MDC formations a House majority. He was named deputy minister of agriculture, but President Mugabe has refused to swear him in, even after the High Court threw out treason charges, a decision the state quickly appealed.

Bennettt now faces a US$1 million civil suit filed by High Court Judge Chinembiri Bhunu, who acquitted Bennett, for alleged defamation in an interview Bennett gave to Britain's Guardian newspaper. He was quoted as saying he did not expect to be acquitted because of Bhunu allegedly had benefited from Mr. Mugabe's land reform program.

Bhunu said Bennett's remarks implied he was “not a fit and proper person ... to preside over the defendant’s trial.”

In an exclusive interview with VOA, Bennettt said that with the political climate growing more contentious by the day, he is wary of further judicial actions against him. But he said time is running out for his alleged persecutors, who he said would end up in the dock at the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands.

Lawyer George Chikumbirike, representing Bhunu, said the defamation suit is not politically motivated, but is simply a matter of his client taking action to defend his professional reputation.

MDC sources said they will ask regional leaders to ensure that persecution of Bennett ends.

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