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Freed Zimbabwe Minister warns of 'massive starvation' in jail

By Adriana Stuijt     Mar 12, 2009 in Politics
Prominent Zimbabwe politican Roy Bennett has been freed on $5,000 bail after a month in a police cell. And as he walked out, the feisty farmer told journalists that his co-prisoners were 'suffering gross abuses'. Five people died in front of him, he said.
Bennett said there was 'massive starvation in the prisons, with people only eating sadza (grain porridge) with salted water.' In the month he was there, five people he knew had died.see
The pro-Mugabe public prosecutors and -police who had arrested Bennett on February 13 at a Harare airport -- while the country's new 'unity-cabinet' was being sworn in -- have made every effort they could to keep him jailed. The top aide to the country's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai however was finally released by the Supreme Court - a day after Mrs Susan Tsvangirai's funeral after her death in a deeply-mysterious car crash.
As part of Bennett's stringent bail conditions, the country's deputy- agriculture minister will have to report three times a week at Harare Central Police Station. He's also had to surrendered his travel documents and the title deeds of his property to the Clerk of court. He has not been asked to plead to any charges in relation to his arrest on February 13, nor has a court date been set for his trial.
Thousands of Movement for Democratic Change supporters thronged the prison to witness the release of Bennett, who walked out of detention at exactly 11.04 a.m. after spending a month in prison on what is widely seen by most political observers as 'trumped up, it is being claimed by prosecutors, "charges of banditry and terrorism.
Ever since his arrest on February 13, MDC-supporter groups have been taking turns, keeping 24-hour vigils around the jail to make certain he wasn't going to be spirited away to a nearby prison which is infamous for its torture practices.Bennett was was in high spirits, waved and shook hands with singing dancing supporters.
Early last week, a Mutare magistrate, Livingstone Chipadze was even arrested after he had signed release orders for Bennett. Two weeks ago, a High Court had also already granted Bennett bail of $ 2,000 US, however the police had immediately re-arrested him while pro-Mugabe prosecutors mounted a series of appeals.
Bennett is Tsvangirai's party treasurer and the designated deputy agricultural minister. Bennett's arrest was seen by most political observers as a last-ditch attempt by Mugabe forces to derail the 'unity-cabinet' by forcing Tsvangirai into resigning in protest over the arrest.
Tsvangirai's 57th birthday: burying beloved wife Susan
Meanwhile a day earlier, Tsvangirai spent his 57th birthday staring at the coffin of his companion of 31 years, wife Susan - killed in a mysterious car crash with a huge truck belonging to US-AID four days ago.
Reporters write that the mourning service inside the Malbereign Methodist Church where Mrs Tsvangirai was a respected Elder, was drenched in symbolism: she was laid out in her coffin wearing the red and white church uniform she was so fond of wearing. The couple have six children.
The coffin was strategically placed in the centre of the church, separating political rivals, pres Robert Mugabe of the Zanu PF party and prime minister Tsvangirai, leader of the long-suffering Movement for Democratic Change party.
The church was crowded. Many - among them also were diplomats - watched the proceedings from outside. As priests took turns at the pulpit, their message was bold and clear - Zimbabwe's entire political leadership must take a hard look in the mirror.
"God works in mysterious ways," said Pastor Kampira. "He has brought together former rivals, we should rejoice," he said, indicating that the days of political quarrels should be a thing of the past. The years of violence have plunged the country in a devastating famine, a cholera epidemic and turned families into bitter enemies, he said.
"Ultimately, it is God who will judge all our actions by deciding after our burial who should go to heaven or hell," he said.
Mr Tsvangirai was apparently 'deeply distressed,' reporters wrote. Tendai Biti - a close ally of Mr Tsvangirai - also paid tribute to the prime minister's late wife. "Mr Tsvangirai's only pillar of strength has been his wife, Susan, who provided the food, the comfort and attention throughout his treason trial… and the assassination attempt on his life," Mr Biti said. "Throughout his stay in detention in prisons, she is the one who provided the food," he said.
On hearing of Mrs Tsvangirai's death, Mr Biti said he was so shocked that he "couldn't feel the pain".
"She was the mother to our struggle, who mothered and breastfed that struggle. She was there when we were beaten up, assaulted."
The irony of the day, he said, was that Mr Tsvangirai was celebrating his 57th birthday staring at the coffin of his companion of 31 years.
"God works in strange ways," Mr Biti said. "This is one of them. She died in the process of preparing her husband's birthday." see
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