No special treatment for fugitive ex-Zim MP

Bennett who is a senior member of Zimbabwe’s divided main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has applied for asylum in South Africa on the grounds that the Zimbabwe government wants to kill him. However South Africa’s Home Affairs office has said the former MP for Chimanimani would not be granted special treatment simply because of his status as a former MP. Home Affairs spokesperson Nkosana Sibuyi told SAPA that Bennett was at the back of a very long queue, and that he was not sure when the former farmer’s request would actually be considered. “I can confirm that we have received his request, but there is a backlog of 103 000 applications for asylum and he is not going to jump the queue simply because of his status,” Sibuyi said. Questions have arisen over the implications of a successful asylum application by the former legislator on relations between Zimbabwe and South Africa, which has famously adopted a stance of ‘quiet diplomacy’ with regard to matters concerning its northern neighbour. Observers believe Bennett’s application could be a test of relations between Zimbabwe and South Africa, and that should South Africa grant the former MP and farmer political asylum, it could add to tension between the governments of the two countries. Government officials in Zimbabwe have denied Bennett’s contention that he was being victimized, with Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi saying there was no justification for South Africa to award Bennett political asylum. "We have never persecuted anybody in Zimbabwe” Mohadi said. But MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa was adamant that there was every reason for Bennett to apply for asylum in South Africa. “It’s true he’s looking for political asylum in South Africa. The regime is after his head. We cannot afford to have a dead hero,” Chamisa told SAPA. He said Bennett would continue to serve the divided MDC, in which he was recently appointed Treasurer of MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai’s “anti-senate” faction. “He will continue to serve as the treasurer of the party. Location is not a factor, but the critical thing is the contribution to the struggle,” Chamisa said. Bennett, otherwise known as ‘Pachedu’ in his constituency, fled Zimbabwe following the discovery of an arms cache in Zimbabwe’s eastern highlands ‘ where he resided ‘ last month. The former MP is thought to have fled Zimbabwe via Mozambique, with unconfirmed reports suggesting that he apparently slipped out through undesignated entry points along the Zimbabwean-Mozambican border, which are normally used by criminals to smuggle stolen cars. Although the arms cache was linked to former police reservist and arms dealer Mike Hitchmann, Bennett, who has constantly been caught on the wrong side of the law, fled the country after police indicated that they wanted to question him in relation to the discovered arms, which they alleged were meant to be used to topple the government. The arms, which included an AK-47 assault rifle, seven Uzi machine guns, four FN rifles, 11 shotguns, six CZ pistols, four revolvers, 15 teargas canisters and several thousand rounds of ammunition, were found at Hitschmann’s home. Zimbabwe government authorities said Hitschmann was linked to an shadowy organisation called the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement, which was apparently stashing arms at various locations around the country. In October 2004 Bennett was sentenced to a year in prison after he floored Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Patrick Chinamasa during a heated debate over land reform in parliament. Bennett was barred from contesting the March 2005 parliamentary elections and his wife Heather ran in his stead but lost the seat to a candidate of the ruling Zanu-PF. Meanwhile, the opposition Democratic Alliance of South Africa has called on the government to grant Bennett asylum, claiming he was being persecuted and had been jailed for his political beliefs, which the Zimbabwe government says is not true. There is no record of Bennett ever being jailed because of his political beliefs.

April 2006
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