Roy Bennett freed in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai won’t get what he wanted from his trip to Washington this week — there’s no sign that the United States plans to lift sanctions against his country anytime soon. But I imagine he’s still celebrating: After months of imprisonment and an arduous trial, Tsvangirai ally Roy Bennett has finally been ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images
DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images
DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai won't get what he wanted from his trip to Washington this week -- there's no sign that the United States plans to lift sanctions against his country anytime soon. But I imagine he's still celebrating: After months of imprisonment and an arduous trial, Tsvangirai ally Roy Bennett has finally been cleared of the charges against him. "Having carefully considered the above findings of fact and law, we came to the unanimous conclusion that the State has failed to prove a prima facie case against the accused," the court ruled. In other words: Robert Mugabe's government was using sham evidence to try and keep one of its greatest opponents in prison.

Already, analysts are hailing Bennett's release as a positive test case of how the coalition government joining Mugabe and Tsvangirai is making progress. Bennett was Tsvangirai's nominee for deputy minister of agriculture -- a controversial post in a country where the seizures of white-owned farms have decimated agricultural production. Bennett is opposed to those seizures; he's a Tsvangirai ally, and he's also white -- a triple whammy as far as Mugabe is concerned. Many believed he would never be released. 

Released he has been, but unfortunately, the test case hasn't even begun. The true mark of change will be if and only if Bennett is now confirmed into his agricultural ministry post. If Mugabe let's that move forward, true progress will be made. Bennett told South Africa's News24 upon his release that he suspects "there are serious things to hide or cover up within the ministry of agriculture and mechanisation, therefore, my presence will expose a lot of this and they don’t want this to happen."

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai won’t get what he wanted from his trip to Washington this week — there’s no sign that the United States plans to lift sanctions against his country anytime soon. But I imagine he’s still celebrating: After months of imprisonment and an arduous trial, Tsvangirai ally Roy Bennett has finally been cleared of the charges against him. "Having carefully considered the above findings of fact and law, we came to the unanimous conclusion that the State has failed to prove a prima facie case against the accused," the court ruled. In other words: Robert Mugabe’s government was using sham evidence to try and keep one of its greatest opponents in prison.

Already, analysts are hailing Bennett’s release as a positive test case of how the coalition government joining Mugabe and Tsvangirai is making progress. Bennett was Tsvangirai’s nominee for deputy minister of agriculture — a controversial post in a country where the seizures of white-owned farms have decimated agricultural production. Bennett is opposed to those seizures; he’s a Tsvangirai ally, and he’s also white — a triple whammy as far as Mugabe is concerned. Many believed he would never be released. 

Released he has been, but unfortunately, the test case hasn’t even begun. The true mark of change will be if and only if Bennett is now confirmed into his agricultural ministry post. If Mugabe let’s that move forward, true progress will be made. Bennett told South Africa’s News24 upon his release that he suspects "there are serious things to hide or cover up within the ministry of agriculture and mechanisation, therefore, my presence will expose a lot of this and they don’t want this to happen."

If not a success story (yet) for the government, what the case does demonstrate is that, in the world’s dreariest places, the judiciary is often a light of hope. The court in Zimbabwe seem to have maintained a degree of independence even as every political pressure was stacked against it. As Bennett put it, "it is the significant indication to the Zanu-PF that they can no longer single handedly trump up charges and persecute someone for something that has not existed."

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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