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Unprecedented, unjustified and unacceptable
Elinor Sisulu
Extracted from the IBA Human Rights Violations in Zimbabwe supplement
December 10, 2004

*Elinor Sisulu is Coordinator for the Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe, South Africa Office and Award winning author of: ‘Walter and Albertina Sisulu: In Our Lifetime’.

There can be no better example of the way in which a government has twisted an anti-imperialist anti-colonial discourse to justify human rights abuses than the case of Roy Bennett.

Roy Bennett’s sentence is unprecedented for a crime of common assault, which in Zimbabwean common law would merit no more than a small fine. The treatment of Bennett is a stark contrast to the response of the South African parliament when a few years ago, National Party MP Manie Schoeman pushed ANC MP Johnny De Lange who responded with a blow that knocked Schoeman to the floor. Frene Ginwala, the then Speaker of Parliament was only as hard on De Lange as she was on Schoeman and she ordered both men to apologise not only to Parliament but to the nation. Far from being persecuted for initiating a fight with a member of the ruling party, Schoeman was disciplined in a fair and just manner. He continued his parliamentary career and is today an ANC MP.

Human rights are indivisible
Sadly the response of the government and many people in this region to the Roy Bennett saga is support for the ZANU-PF view that as a white farmer Roy Bennett deserved what was coming to him. According to this view, because his ancestors took the land (no matter that he bought his farm after 1980 under the laws of an independent Zimbabwean state), Roy Bennett deserves to be deprived of his rights as an MP, a citizen and indeed a human being. The danger of such a view is that human rights are indivisible. Depriving a citizen of his or her rights, for whatever reason, and persecuting them with impunity, sets a dangerous precedent. It is unprecedented and illegal for parliamentarians to impose a jail sentence on a fellow parliamentarian outside of a judicial process. The separation of the powers of the law-makers from the law enforcers is fundamental to any democracy.

Those who would applaud the treatment of Roy Bennett because he is a white farmer, would do well to be reminded that the majority of black opposition MPs have suffered harassment and abuse from State and ruling party agents, ranging from assaults, theft of property to torture. Even if one chose to justify the persecution of Roy Bennett on racist lines, how would one justify the murder of Bennett’s black employee Steven Tonera and the severe beating of Tonera’s brother Tonderai Murimba? How would one justify the violence against women that is part and parcel of the land invasions?

Apologists for the Zimbabwe government would be well reminded that behind ZANU-PF’s obfuscatory propaganda about white farmers and the land question is the cynical and systematic persecution of the most marginalised and vulnerable citizens sanctioned by the highest office of the land. President Robert Mugabe has on at least two occasions, publicly threatened Roy Bennett and encouraged ZANU PF supporters to force him from his own constituency.

Others have suffered On International Human Rights Day, the last day of the 16 Days of Activism against Violence against women and children, spare a thought for the women who have suffered as part of the political persecution of Roy Bennett. His wife Heather was three-months pregnant when war veterans invaded their house and held her hostage. She suffered a miscarriage as a result of the trauma. In the ongoing campaign against Bennett’s employees, two teenage girls were raped and two sexually assaulted (their names are withheld to protect their identities). Chamunorwa Muusha, the war veteran who was convicted and sentenced for the rape of one of the teenagers, was released after a presidential pardon.

Human rights abuses in Zimbabwe fly in the face of the peer review mechanism in the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) and the Constitutive Act of the African Union, and the many protocols, declarations and treaties signed by African heads of state and government. A regional civic advocacy programme to call for an end to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe could yet provide the starting point in the quest for civil society to lead in the articulation and enforcement of norms and standards for human rights protection that ought to be sacrosanct across the region, indeed across the continent.

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