City of Brass

City of Brass

horror and hope of Zimbabwe: Roy Bennett

posted by Aziz Poonawalla

This is a guest post by Joe Trippi.

I’ve talked about Roy Bennett and his imprisonment for weeks, talked
about his courage, about Roy really being the heart and soul of the MDC
opposition to Mugabe in Zimbabwe, and rejoiced when I learned he was
released from the horrors of the Mutare prison — a prison that is known
throughout Zimbabwe as Robert Mugabe’s torture prison. A place where if
you are lucky enough to escape torture, you still have to fight off
starvation because you are lucky to be fed once a week.

I met Roy Bennett in 2008. I was in Africa trying to help rid
Zimbabwe of Robert Mugabe. I saw first hand the risk that Roy and
others were taking to promote, through democratic means, new leadership
and real change in Zimbabwe – waging a campaign against Robert Mugabe
and the ruling Zanu-PF party. I saw the risk Morgan Tsvangirai was
taking in having the guts to stand election and challenge Robert Mugabe
with Roy’s help and the help of other brave Zimbabweans who were
willing to make a stand for their country.

At least 110 of them are dead.

If you want to understand more about Roy Bennett, the kind of person
he is, how in all the horror that has become Zimbabwe he represents
real hope for the nation’s future, and how his ability to forgive is
perhaps the key to reaching that future — you should take the time to read this story from The Times.

I have excerpted a few key paragraghs here:

On the Mutare prison. “Emerging from the gates of Mutare remand
prison and struggling to hold back tears yesterday, he said that his
incarceration had been “a harrowing experience”.

He said: “I would not wish it on my worst enemy. There are people
there who look worse than the photographs of prisoners in Dachau and
Auschwitz. They get a handful of sadza [thick maizemeal porridge] and
water with salt. Five people died while I was there, and their bodies
were collected after four or five days. There are people there who have
been awaiting trial for three years.”

I was receiving updates on Roy throughout his imprisonment that
began on February 13th. I knew that a prisoner died in Roy’s cell and
that the body remained in the cell for days before it was removed. A
week or so later I learned that another prisoner had died in the cell
next to Roy’s and that the body was left in the cell for days again.
And I knew that food was scarce.

I learned stuff that I have to say didn’t make much sense to me. I
learned that Roy had gotten so fed up with the conditions that he had
started to organize the prison — and convinced the guards to let him
lead his fellow prisoners in cleaning up the place. And I learned that
a few days later the attitude of the guards changed and that they
started to jump in with the prisoners in the cleaning effort. Could
this possible be true? The first part sounded true — and my source was
a friend I trusted but did he really win over the guards? I wasn’t sure
until i read what The Times reporter found when he got to the Mutare

“The demeanour of the guards at the prison, which is close to
Zimbabwe’s eastern border with Mozambique, was a testament to how fast
the mood in the country is evolving. One of them told me excitedly when
I arrived at the gates: “Mr Bennett is getting out today. Yes, we are

Last week another guard asked officials of Mr Tsvangirai’s Movement
for Democratic Change, who had taken Mr Bennett disinfectant to clean
the cell, and some food, for 18 “Free Roy” T-shirts. “Ten for the day
guards, and eight for the night guards,” he said.

Supporters of the Prime Minister’s party, many of them wearing
similar T-shirts, kept up a steady chorus of singing outside the
rickety gates.”

Then I read the words that tell you about why Roy Bennett is so important to the future of his nation. One word. Forgiveness.

“Mr Bennett shared a small excrement-covered cell with 12 other men.
“It breaks my heart when I think of them,” he said, adding that those
responsible for the repression and ruin of the country over the past
decade should “go on their knees and beg forgiveness” from God.
However, he also urged Zimbabwe’s new coalition Government to forget
the past and work together to rebuild the shattered nation. “Conditions
in that jail are brought about by hate. I bear no malice. In my heart,
all I can do is move forward to build the country. If we don’t forgive,
and there isn’t a spirit of forgiveness, we are going nowhere.

“There are people who don’t want right to prevail, and want to keep
believing that they have the power to do anything. But they are few and
their time is near the end.”

I once again want to thank those who helped put a spotlight on Roy’s
arrest and helped keep the story alive when so many in the press
couldn’t be bothered with something happening in Africa.

Roy is right, Robert Mugabe and his regime’s time is nearing an end.
It will take people like you, who are reading this, to do something
simple. Tell a friend to read this post. Blog about it — retweet my
twitters about Zimbabwe. When the press doesn’t think there is a story
– we have to be the story’s tellers. People in Zimbabwe who have
Internet access are literally printing out our blog posts and handing
copies out in mass in their towns and villages. People are gaining
confidence that they can create change in their own country. And as The
Times story points out the mood in the country is changing very
quickly. But we are providing more than morale. When I twittered about
this David Shuster the host of MSNBC’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and
@shuster1600 on Twitter, started to look into the story and reported
about it — on the air. And day after day updated the story — reminding
viewers that Roy Bennett was still in prision and vowing to continue to
update the story until Roy was released.

I know that Twitter had a lot to do with bringing too much attention
to Roy Bennett’s imprisonment. The kind of attention that helped bring
pressure on the Mugabe regime to release Roy Bennett. The simple act of
telling others that this is going on is important — it matters and the
more who know it is going on the more likely it will end. Roy Bennett’s
imprisonment has ended. Now it is time tell our friends about Zimbabwe,
and to urge them to tell their friends. The press and governments will
get the message and the pressure will increase on Mugabe and his regime.

I am not much of an idealist any more — at least not in the way I
considered myself an idealist before I found my way to Africa last year
– but I still believe in the power of people conducting simple acts
together for the purpose of achieving what is right.

I find it strange that I live in a world in which BILLIONS of people
live on less than $2 a day yet many of us will pay 99 cents for an
IPhone app that makes our phone fart. But I don’t write this out of
guilt or to guilt you. Its just a fact that I find really strange.

Roy Bennett, Morgan Tsvangirai, the MDC and the people of Zimbabwe
need a little noise. That’s all it will take. Tell their story. Tell
people to read this post. Retweet a twitter about Zimbabwe when you
find it interesting, say something on your blog. Tell a reporter that
they should follow and report this story.

Tell the story.

And Roy when this one gets to you — Thanks.

Joe Trippi served as the campaign chair of Howard Dean’s legendary campaign for President in 2004, and has worked on the campaigns of numerous other major Democratic politicians over the years. Joe is an ardent advocate of human rights and reform, having been involved  in the efforts for freedom in Zimbabwe for decades, and is working with the Change Congress campaign for domestic reform of US politics. This post was originally posted at his website Follow Joe on twitter at @JoeTrippi!

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