Leading Zimbabwe opposition figure Roy Bennett, one of the long-time outspoken critics of former President Robert Mugabe, was killed in a helicopter crash in a remote area of the US state of New Mexico, authorities said on Thursday. He was 60.
Bennett was a founding member of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change, who angered Mr. Mugabe by winning a parliamentary seat in a rural constituency despite being white.
Had a devoted following
Bennett, who spoke fluent Shona, was earthy and engaging and won a devoted following of black Zimbabweans for passionately advocating political change. He was known as “Pachedu,” meaning “one of us” in Shona and was often called the sharpest thorn in Mugabe’s side.
At one point, his successful coffee farm in eastern Zimbabwe was seized by war veterans. One of Bennett’s farmworkers was killed by the invaders and wife Heather miscarried after the assault.
In 2004, Bennett was jailed for a year for assaulting a Cabinet Minister who had said Bennett’s “forefathers were thieves and murderers” during a debate. He emerged thin and told of prisoners’ mistreatment.
The eternal Mugabe critic
Bennett fled Zimbabwe after receiving death threats but came back in 2009 after being nominated for the deputy agriculture minister in a coalition government with Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party. The strongman accepted other opposition leaders into his Cabinet, but he refused to swear in Bennett.
Bennett later returned to South Africa but remained a vocal critic of Mugabe’s rule.