SLIGHTLY darker in complexion, looking tired and clearly having lost weight, the figure of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) MP for Chimanimani Roy Bennett is out of place among the other pri
soners at Mutoko Prison.
Not only is he the only white man, he still has a bigger frame compared to the other inmates. The majority of them were jailed for offences such as dealing in mbanje, gold panning, cattle rustling and rape.
Another common offence in Mutoko and Mudzi districts is brewing the illicit kachasu.
A small complex with typically dilapidated buildings less than a kilometre south west of Mutoko growth point is Mutoko Prison, where Bennett is trying to adjust to harsh living conditions.
This is different territory from Chimanimani where he was involved in daily battles with the army and Zanu PF supporters who eventually took over his Charleswood Estate in defiance of eight court orders.
The Zimbabwe Independent visited the prison last week and had a glimpse of the opposition legislator’s new lifestyle in the north-eastern part of the country.
Bennett talks to the other prisoners and could be seen smiling and even laughing during a conversation with some fellow inmates. But he is not the robust figure that the people in Chimanimani had come to know as “Pachedu” (together as one). He now has a shaven head and dons thick khaki prison garb like all the other inmates. He is allowed only fortnightly family visits for ten minutes at a time.
“Bennett can only be seen by his wife and two other guys, who must be his brothers,” a prison warder said upon inquiry. “Part of the conditions is also that the wife and brothers can only see him once every two weeks. They cannot bring food. He will only be allowed to take food from them at Christmas.”
Heather Bennett told Sky TV News yesterday that conditions at the prison were “horrendous”.
It is the planting season and Mutoko Prison has plots in the adjacent farm. The prison mainly grows maize to cater for staff and prisoners’ consumption whilst the surplus is sold.
This season, the workforce includes Bennett as his jail term has a component of hard labour.
Under the command of peevish prison warders, the prisoners wake up at dawn to start the day’s toil in the fields. Breakfast is a cup of black tea, a plain slice of bread or alternatively a plate of porridge. Late in the afternoon, lunch is served. The menu is a few grains of beans swimming in a brown pool of liquid to accompany a fist-size morsel of sadza. The alternative is kapenta in saline water.
Either of the two dishes is served for supper before the prisoners retire to sleep, which in itself is a battle under the cover of dirty blankets infested with lice.
There are 38 to a cell.
The effects of this diet and quality of hygiene can be seen on the weary bodies of the prisoners.
A debate in parliament on the issue of stock theft on May 18 started it all for Bennett. Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa accused Bennett’s ancestors of being “thieves and murderers” to justify government’s seizure of his Charleswood Estate. He said Bennett would never be allowed to set foot on his property again.
An incensed Bennett charged at Chinamasa and floored him. Anti-Corruption and Monopolies Minister Didymus Mutasa joinedthe scuffle in support of Chinamasa but also landed on the floor.
“I kicked him hard,” Mutasa later said.
Bennett was found guilty by the special privileges committee. It recommended that he be sentenced to one-year imprisonment. Zanu PF’s majority in parliament carried the day and the House adopted the recommendation.
Bennett’s apologies later in the House were ignored.
He promised to return and complete the journey to freedom together with others as he headed for Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison where hard-core criminals are detained.
The journey had not ended for Bennett as he was transferred to the remote Mutoko Prison in Mashonaland East.
In Chimanimani, jostling for Bennett’s seat ahead of next year’s election has intensified among Zanu PF candidates who hope to win by default as Bennett may be ineligible to contest.