MDC-T Treasurer General Roy Bennett is the guest on Question Time and joins SW Radio Africa journalist Lance Guma to answer questions from their listeners. He responds to questions on his call for Old Mutual to withdraw controversial investments in Zimpapers and Mbada Diamonds. He also reacts to the SADC Troika summit held in Zambia. Does he plan on returning to Zimbabwe anytime soon?
Interview broadcast 06 April 2011
Lance Guma: Hello Zimbabwe and welcome to the first ever live session of the programme Question Time. My guest this week is the exiled MDC-T Treasurer General Roy Bennett. Thank you for joining us Roy.
Roy Bennett: Pleasure Lance.
Guma: Now you are currently in the United Kingdom – business or pleasure?
Bennett: Well I’m basically here to continue with the struggle and to represent the MDC in London for a global advocacy campaign Lance.
Guma: OK and we see the web site – freezimbabwe.com – which you have endorsed. Tell us more about this.
Bennett: Well basically Lance if you look at all the violence and repression taking place in Zimbabwe, it’s driven by resources and it’s resources that are being illegally acquired through the natural resources of Zimbabwe – the diamond fields, the platinum fields.
If you look at the totally corrupt Ministry of Mines and how it’s handled, it is those resources that are fuelling that violence and paying those people to carry out that violence. So for us as the MDC to be able to fight an election, it is based on resources and resources for democracy to free Zimbabwe and so we have launched that web site to hopefully touch the Diaspora who want to go home, to touch everybody across the length and breadth of Zimbabwe.
If each person put one dollar into that web site, to free Zimbabwe that would be able to assist the democratisation of Zimbabwe.
Guma: Now talking about resources, you recently stirred controversy at an investment conference in Cape Town when you blasted Old Mutual and what you called its seedy role in the illicit diamond mining that is occurring in the Marange diamond fields. Let’s start off with that. Most of our listeners want you to explain your criticism of Old Mutual.
Bennett: Well it’s quite simple, it’s very simple Lance – that is a totally shady deal with Mbada Diamonds and the Mineral Marketing Board. You have the community of Marange that has been displaced, that have been killed, that have been brutalised around those diamond fields.
Where Marange is situated, it’s across the road from Hot Springs; Hot Springs used to be in my constituency Kwa Hoti and the people there live in natural region five, it is incredibly poor area and if anybody should benefit from those resources, firstly it’s the people of Marange.
Secondly that investment has not met the standards of transparency and the monies out of those diamond mines basically ends up fuelling the violence against the people of Zimbabwe to endorse an autocratic dictatorship.
Guma: Now another company that you pointed out that Old Mutual should not be involved in – Zimpapers.
Bennett: Well absolutely – if you look at Old Mutual and why I have mentioned Old Mutual, it’s got nothing to do with me being against Old Mutual; what I am against is the credibility that Old Mutual carries as a London-listed company and as a company that has always been involved with ethics and standards across the length and breadth of its investments and insurance investments around the world and are very well known for that.
So for them to be involved in a seedy deal and a shady deal like Marange through a mixer which is their investment company, it is questionable Lance. At the same time, their stake in Zimpapers is seriously questionable. Whatever the reasons for them remaining there, Zimpapers is basically the Herald, it’s the Manica Post, it’s the Chronicle and if we look at the most hatred that is spewed out and fanning the violence and fanning every –ism that’s possible it is those dirty little rags.
And basically, Old Mutual on ethics, whatever it takes, whatever they lose, should disinvest from those particular investments. And again it’s opportunities like this where I speak out truthfully and for the people of Zimbabwe and for the country of Zimbabwe that should be benefiting from those natural resources and also where a company like Old Mutual should be with the people and with what is right.
But ZANU PF take a spin on these things and say that I’m discouraging investment from Zimbabwe – far from the truth Lance. The truth is that ethical investment is welcome, has happened in Zimbabwe, will continue to happen in Zimbabwe and will be there for the long term future of Zimbabwe.
Unethical investment at the expense of the people, at the expense of human rights, that fuels hatred, violence and anything against the people is very short-lived.
Guma: I suppose there you are touching on some reports that had given the impression that you were calling on investors to stay away from Zimbabwe.
Bennett: Well absolutely, the first time you saw it was on Gideon Gono’s web site New Zimbabwe because Gideon Gono himself happens to be one of the major partners in Mbada, together with Grace Mugabe, so these are the people that are benefiting from the natural resources of Zimbabwe to fuel and fan the violence against the people, not the poor people of Marange, the poor people vekwa Hoti and the people of Zimbabwe as a whole where we’re battling to meet fiscus.
We’re battling all across the board and those diamonds – if they were transparently done and done in the best interests and the social responsibility was there and the country benefited from them and that the investors that were involved in that investment had Zimbabwe at heart – everybody would be clapping and applauding because that is what we want and that is what we expect nothing less for Zimbabwe and for the people of Zimbabwe.
Guma: Now we have Jimmy Malunga Chasafara who sent us a question via facebook and he says how can the MDC call for the withdrawal of these investments when they are part of the government? What do you intend to achieve?
Bennett: Well again I’ve explained that. We’re not calling for any disinvestment from any ethical company. We are exposing unethical investments that are benefiting people who are using those resources to carry out human rights against the people of Zimbabwe and I don’t think any government in its right mind or anybody in their right mind would ever endorse such investments or such abuse of the natural resources of Zimbabwe.
Guma: A recent update by Veritas who monitor legal and parliamentary affairs says your seat as a senator is now at risk. They say without the leave of the Senate you have missed more than 21 sittings during the current parliamentary session. Are you aware of this?
Bennett: Yah I am aware of it Lance and again it is very obvious of the lengths that ZANU PF goes to victimise and to control the process within Zimbabwe. So yes, that is what they do, they obviously want to victimise me, they want to kick me out of the Senate so that I’m not appointed as the Minister of Agriculture because their spurious charges of treason have failed.
The reason I am in exile is there are two warrants for my arrest; there’s a warrant of arrest for me for perjury, there’s a warrant of arrest for me for contempt of court – so the persecution is relentless and we must never forget that the big picture is to deliver freedom to the people of Zimbabwe and to stand with the people of Zimbabwe.
It is the people of Zimbabwe that will deliver change to Zimbabwe. Those holding the guns, their time is short-lived; those using and exploiting the natural resources of Zimbabwe to repress the people of Zimbabwe, their time is short-lived. The big picture is Zimbabwe, the people of Zimbabwe who will not give up on their quest for a free and fair and a new Zimbabwe.
Guma: We have a listener from Honde Valley who wants to know – you in the past have fought these charges, been acquitted while in Zimbabwe – what has changed that has made you decide I’ve had enough of this and I’m going to be in exile?
Bennett: Well it’s basically two issues: as the Treasurer General of the MDC, we have an election coming up. It’s a crucial election and it is my job to be able to use whatever ways and means I have to raise the resources for the party for that election.
At the same time I am here in London, deployed by the party as a global advocacy coordinator, to coordinate advocacy of a representative that will be based in Brussels, a representative that will be based in Washington and a representative that will be based in South Africa and it is all towards the next election.
London is the financial capital of the world, it is the media capital of the world and with my direct line back to the leadership of the party, I am here for them to use and at their disposal.
Guma: OK. From Mutare we have a text message from Samantha. Samantha says the MDC will be having its Congress at the end of April; will your absence have any impact on your position as Treasurer General?
Bennett: Well again Lance, that is for the MDC people to decide. I’ve always said that I’m there, I’m available for as long as they want me. If they don’t want me I will move aside. I never entered into politics for myself; I entered into to represent and to deliver to the people of Zimbabwe so I’m there, I’m available to stand if the people want me; if they don’t want me, I’ll take a back seat and get on with my life.
Guma: But obviously your absence doesn’t affect anything – you can still, your name can be put forward as a candidate and people vote on that?
Bennett: Absolutely Lance, as far as I understand, yes.
Guma: Now the recent SADC Troika Summit held in Livingstone Zambia – it surprised everyone with an unprecedented robust approach to the Zimbabwean crisis. Mugabe’s regime responded by hurling insults at Jacob Zuma’s presidency and at SADC. What is your reading of the situation particularly given you’ve spent quite some time in South Africa?
Bennett: Lance it’s a very clear position and I’ve always been very clear in line with the party message and the president has always been very, very clear- we won an election in 2008; because of the difficulties and the fact of the de facto military coup took place and a junta took control of Zimbabwe and used Robert Mugabe for legitimacy.
The whole issue around that is one of democratisation, it’s one of moving things forward and when President Tsvangirai sacrificed his political capital to go into the Global Political Agreement, do you think he didn’t know what ZANU PF are? Do think he didn’t know that they would never agree to anything?
But the MDC entered in for very strong reasons – at that time and people have not forgotten, people in Zimbabwe, living in Zimbabwe are very aware of the economic state of affairs; the inflation was at trillions of dollars, the health system had collapsed, the schooling system had collapsed and it was on that basis, for the basis for the people and also for the trust of the guarantees of SADC that our President Tsvangirai sacrificed his political capitol and went into this Global Political Agreement.
Have we achieved what we went out to achieve? On the major front – yes. The macro-economics of Zimbabwe have completely stabilised. Yes, we might have given ZANU PF a second chance but they were going to take that chance anyway because they are in control of the military and as I said to you, a de facto coup has taken place but we certainly delivered a better life for the people of Zimbabwe through the macro-economics.
The health system has definitely improved, the education has definitely improved – so these are areas that have definitely delivered to the people of Zimbabwe. Where we have not been able to deliver and that’s where SADC has to come in is on the Global Political Agreement and the transfer of power.
The military are still fully in control; they’re still fully in charge; they don’t respect the will of the people; they don’t respect the fact that the MDC are part of the government but SADC guaranteed that process and we’ve always said that we will remain in there. We’ve been criticised – why haven’t we pulled out of this thing? Why do we remain there?
The very reason we remain there is the fact that SADC guaranteed the process; the facilitator has been there to monitor this process and the truth eventually comes out and the process that was supposed to have ended on the 11th of February was when the two years of the Global Political Agreement was up.
It’s now very, very obvious and very, very plain to see the lengths that ZANU PF has gone to sabotage that Global Political Agreement, to remain in power, to snub SADC, to snub the facilitator and that’s all coming home to roost now as we sit here Lance.
Guma: We have a question, I suppose it’s a good follow-up to that – Lindiwe Moyo in Hwange says – in hindsight, do you think it was a mistake to form a coalition government with Mugabe and ZANU PF? In hindsight?
Bennett: No I don’t think so Lance, I think it was the only option available at the time taking into account the suffering of the people. Yes we could have sat back, we could have refused to go into that, ZANU PF would have just turned their wrath onto the people.
Already people were dying by their thousands to cholera, people were suffering with the macro-economics, more people were leaving the country, so for the sake of the people, I don’t think it was a bad thing to go into that and all these things, when you’re dealing with dictatorships and you’re dealing with military juntas who rule by the gun, it is a process – it takes time.
It is not something that happens overnight and it’s to be there, to be true to the people, to be true to your policies as a political party and represent them honestly and fairly and try to move the process forward without violence and democratically.
Guma: Prime Minister Tsvangirai recently said dark and sinister forces have taken over government. Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga from the other MDC formation said – a smart coup had taken place in Zimbabwe. What’s your reading of the situation?
Bennett: Lance I’ve always been of the opinion and very, very solid on that opinion was that in 2008 when the MDC won the elections, the five weeks it took ZANU PF to release those results, they were busy altering the results in order to force a run-off.
At the same time I do believe that Mugabe was ready to retire and move aside and that he was approached by the junta, by the generals and chiefly Mnangagwa being one of the principal ones with Sekeramayi, then Chiwenga – these are the guys that went to Mugabe and said that there’s absolutely no ways he can leave them, he has to remain there, they will guarantee and ensure that there’s a run-off and that he wins that run-off – which the rest is history.
Guma: Why is Mugabe important to this regime? In a sense he is old?
Bennett: Well basically Mugabe confers legitimacy onto ZANU PF’s rigging, violence to get into power. Take Mugabe away, because of his stature and standing within Africa and as a previous liberation hero – the fact that he’s gone back on everything that liberation stands for is neither here nor there, he is somebody, that if he’s elected as a president can carry the legitimacy.
Take him out the picture – there’s no way that somebody like Mnangagwa or Chiwenga will ever carry that legitimacy or will ever have been able to pull the wool over the peoples’ eyes or anybody’s eyes in Africa or the world that they won an election.
Guma: We all saw pictures of Mugabe in Zambia failing to walk on his own, using a golf cart to travel everywhere. I’m sure you saw those also. What did you make of that?
Bennett: Well again Lance, if we look at the process that we are in in Zimbabwe and we look at all the pain and suffering the people of Zimbabwe have gone through, from the liberation war, from colonial days through to now – every country, God has a hand in the future and the developments of that country and God has His hand on Zimbabwe.
He knows exactly where we’re going and what the end result will be and Robert Mugabe is not immortal, he’s not there forever. He’s an old man – 87 is definitely not a young man in anybody’s book so time is catching up with him and his day of judgement will come where he will stand in judgement for all the atrocities and violence that he has released on the people of Zimbabwe so basically I think basically that is what is happening – there’s nobody who can stop the ageing process and nobody can stop the will of God and the plans that God has for Zimbabwe.
Guma: From Glen Norah comes a question from Elton Madzimure – his question basically is why does the Mugabe regime hate you so much? We were given various excuses why you couldn’t be sworn in as the deputy Agriculture minister – first it was that you had a case that you needed to be cleared of first and when you were acquitted, still you are not sworn in. Is there an element of hatred and if so, why do they hate you so much?
Bennett: Lance ndinobva kuvanhu, handisi munhu akazvimirira ega (Lance I come from the people, I don’t stand on my own). I was put where I am by the people of Zimbabwe, I represent those people as honestly and as transparently and as accountably as I can.
I’ve gone the whole mile to stand by the people in our quest for democracy and good governance in Zimbabwe and so therefore I have support especially within my home area, Chimanimani, of people who have lived side by side with me and worked with me and no amount of intimidation or threats from Mugabe has been able to silence or suppress those people and I suppose I stand for everything that he detests.
I’m white, I’m a farmer, I was in the Rhodesian, the British South Africa Police – so all these things bring hatred to him. Unlike the rest of us in Zimbabwe – in 1980 we embraced a new Zimbabwe, we put our hearts into building a country and move on.
He has remained in the past, remains an inherent racist, is filled with hatred and one must pity him because all this hatred destroys a person. Turns you into a sort of wreck which he is today and that’s about the hatred that’s filled inside him.
Guma: Some have suggested Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa whom you pushed in parliament a few years ago is behind this campaign of harassment. What do you make of that?
Bennett: Well I’m not sure Lance. That was again a very unfortunate incident, it’s past, he never accepted my apology. Everybody has a breaking point, it’s not something I’m proud of but it happened and for him to hold a grudge and continue – you know the biggest thing – you can tell someone from ZANU chero anywhere – they are filled with hatred, they are aggressive, there’s no love in them, it seems to be a culture within inside ZANU PF and it’s very unfortunate because it’s the biggest destructive force that they have inside their own party.
Guma: Well Zimbabwe that was the MDC Treasurer General Roy Bennett joining us on this first ever live session of the programme Question Time. Roy, thank you very much for joining us.
Bennett: My pleasure Lance thank you.
Feedback can be sent to [email protected] http://twitter.com/lanceguma or http://www.facebook.com/lance.guma
SW Radio Africa is Zimbabwe’s Independent Voice and broadcasts on Short Wave 4880 KHz in the 60m band.