HARARE – Roy Bennett, a former opposition member of Zimbabwe’s Parliament, is seeking political asylum in South Africa because he fears for his life, a party spokesperson said on Monday.
Bennett, a senior member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), was
released from prison in June last year after serving eight months for shoving the justice minister during a heated debate in Parliament.
He fled Zimbabwe last month afer police said they wanted to question him following the security services’ discovery of an arms cache in eastern Zimbabwe that they claimed was to be used to overthrown President Robert Mugabe’s government.
“It’s true he is looking for political asylum in South Africa,” said MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa.
“The regime is after his head. We can not afford to have a dead hero,” Chamisa told Agence France-Presse.
Bennett was elected treasurer last month of one faction of the split MDC led by Morgan Tsvangirai.
“He (Bennett) will continue to serve as the treasurer of the party” from South Africa, Chamisa said.
“Location is not a factor, but the critical thing is the contribution of the struggle.”
Bennett was in October 2004 sentenced to a year in prison after he pushed Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa to the floor during a rowdy exchange over land reform in Parliament.
Bennett lost his large coffee plantation in eastern Zimbabwe during Mugabe’s land reform programme launched in 2000 which saw nearly 4 000 of the 4 500 white Zimbabwean large-scale commercial farmers evicted from their land which was given to landless Zimbabweans.
The feisty lawmaker was in trouble again last month after the discovery of a huge arms cache, in which a former white soldier Mike Peter Hitschmann was identified as the kingpin, and fled the country to avoid arrest.
State authorities said Hitschmann, whom they described as a member of a shadowy organisation called the Zimbabwe Freedom Movement, was involved in stashing arms at various locations in the country.
State media reports said a Kalashnikov 47 assault rifle, seven Uzi machine guns, four FN rifles, 11 shotguns, six CZ pistols, four revolvers, 15 tear gas canisters and several thousand rounds of ammunition had been found at Hitschmann’s home.
The MDC has denied any links to Hitschmann and claims he is a police reservist.
Home Affairs Minister Kembo Mohadi said there were no grounds for South Africa to grant Bennett political asylum.
“We have never persecuted anybody in Zimbabwe,” said Mohadi.
Mohadi said it was “peculiar” that Bennett was seeking asylum abroad “yet his boss Tsvangirai is in the country making all the useless noise”.
South African foreign ministry officials could not be immediately reached for comment. — Sapa-AFP