“SLUGGER” Bennett is now well-known for his pugilistic talents and his relationship with the Chimanimani community.
local name is Pachedu which means “One with us” and as with all local Shona nicknames it has a deeper meaning than a simple English name. He is Zimbabwean born, raised on a farm and spoke Shona as his first language.
Even now I sometimes think he thinks in Shona as he certainly struggles in English.
He saved his money and realised a life-long dream when he bought Charleswood Estate in the Chimanimani district in the 80s. Typical of Bennett he did not do the usual farmer thing – he first went to the local traditional leadership, introduced himself properly and then asked for permission to buy the property. He also had to ask the Mugabe government for their approval and this was given in the form of a legal document from the Ministry of Lands and Agriculture which stated that the government had no interest in the property for resettlement purposes.
Having secured the approval of the traditional leaders he went ahead and bought his dream. It was 3 000 hectares of a wild, hilly country with the most breathtaking views of the Chimanimani mountains. There was about 300 hectares of arable land and Bennett put in a coffee plantation on that.
The rest he fenced and began a cattle operation and a lodge for tourists.
In order to help his neighbours – the local peasant farmers who were on land next to him – he started an “outgrowers” scheme with each family growing a small area of coffee – enough for them to care for as a family.
Bennett provided the know-how, the seedlings, tractors and tillage and then fertilisers and whatever insecticides were required. When his own and the local communal farmers crop was mature he built a coffee mill on the farm and started a marketing scheme for the coffee under his own brand in Europe.
As you can imagine the presence and activity of a man like this was a significant development in the district. In 1998, the local leadership of Zanu PF asked Bennett to be their candidate in the area and he agreed. The only problem was that when the MDC was launched in late 1999, the local people came to him and said they wanted him to run as their candidate – not for Zanu PF, but for the MDC. Mystified, he approached the leadership of the MDC who, after a full investigation decided that this was a bona fide case and Bennett was accepted as the MDC candidate. Just politics, he thought.
Zanu PF sneered at the arrogance of this local mukiwa thinking he could win a seat against the Zanu PF monolith which up to then had controlled virtually all the seats in the region – the exception being the seats in the Ndau area just to the south of Chimanimani. Then came the referendum result and four months later Bennett took the seat with a massive majority. Zanu PF was stunned. They were even more discomfited when this white man, who spoke colloquial Shona started to participate in debates on a wide range of issues in parliament.
The order went out from Zanu PF headquarters in Harare – this man must be stopped. The attacks started. In an early incident Heather, Bennett’s beautiful and long-suffering wife, was so distressed she lost her third baby. They already had a boy and a girl. Since then the attacks have continued – day and night.
Bennett established a local MDC district office in the village which has been ransacked at least six times. Last Saturday it was burned to the ground. The farm has been invaded and then vacated on numerous occasions – never by local people, always by people from outside the district. The staff on the farm – some 300 workers and their families – has resisted the invasions, in some cases paying with their lives and risking and receiving savage beatings.
Finally, when an army general, Mike Nyambuya, was appointed governor of Manicaland he ordered occupation of the property by military personnel and Bennett’s eviction from the district.
This was completed a few weeks ago and Bennett’s long suffering and loyal staff are still sitting in the bush after their eviction and dispossession of all their property by the Zanu PF thugs who occupied the property. I do not know what Bennett lost in the exercise but it runs into billions of Zimbabwe dollars – even at US$1:$5 000, this is a considerable sum of money. The occupation is illegal (Bennett has won every legal case he has taken to the High Court), totally violent and destructive.
Following the fracas in parliament the regime sent in a force of about 2000 men from outside the district to showcase a local “demonstration” against Bennett in his actual constituency. Bennett heeded a warning and phoned through to his people advising them to leave town. When the rent-a-mob arrived not an MDC activist was in sight. They proceeded to the MDC office and trashed it, finally burning it to the ground.
Then, frustrated that they could not find any immediate MDC targets they marched down to the home of the Kidds. Shane Kidd runs his own sawmill in the area and is a well-known MDC activist. He was not at home, but his wife was.
She was hauled out of the house by the mob, beaten and then forced to walk through the village before they forced her to clean up the mess at the MDC office – all this to a grey-haired woman who was old enough to be their mother. The police watched and laughed with the rest. And guess what, a ZBC camera crew just happened to be on site – hundreds of kilometers from their home base. They filmed the whole shameful episode.
At 16.30hrs Mrs Kidd was allowed back to her smashed home. I watched the TV news last night – it was not covered. I think they suddenly woke up to the fact that they had a problem. Mrs Kidd is a Finn. I called her last night on the phone. She said she was “fine” and was more determined than ever and felt “she could move mountains”.
I told her she was wonderful and that we were praying for them both.
Shane has been to prison several times in the past four years – just because of his unswerving support for Bennett and the MDC and what we stand for.
We are Zanu PF’s worst nightmare. We will not hide, we will not run, we will not give in. We love our country and its people and we are here to stay. All it takes is a bit of courage and determination. It also takes faith – we have that as well. Why? Because in the end we will win!