Friday, January 19, 2018

Roy Bennett, White Zimbabwean With Black Political Base, Dies in US Helicopter Crash

January 19, 2018 by  
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Mr. Mugabe, the country’s new leader, was hailed as a freedom fighter, but during his 37-year rule, the once-prosperous nation fell into economic ruin. A major factor was a violent program, begun in 2000, that confiscated the large commercial properties of white farmers, which was intended to redress inequities but caused economic havoc, although it ultimately led to a boom in small black farms. Mr. Mugabe’s relatives were among the beneficiaries of the land seizures.

Fluent in Shona, one of Zimbabwe’s main languages, Mr. Bennett was a rarity as a white politician with a significant black political following. A former policeman, he won the respect of his black neighbors with his local philanthropy and his commitment to the community. He was called Pachedu — roughly, “one of us.”

Frustrated with poor economic performance and Mr. Mugabe’s increasingly authoritarian turn, his neighbors at first suggested that he be put forward as a candidate for the ruling party, ZANU-PF. That idea was dismissed out of hand, and so the neighbors urged Mr. Bennett to join the new opposition party instead. He became a close ally and friend of Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader.

“What’s so heartening about these elections is that there’s a good percentage of Zimbabwean whites who’ve said, ‘Damn it, let’s get involved,’ and we’ve suffered together with the blacks and feared together with them,” Mr. Bennett told the journalist Peter Godwin in June 2000, the month he was elected to Parliament. “We’ve made a stand and shown that we’re prepared to sacrifice ourselves for this country. And isn’t that what a patriot is after all? It’s the first time in my life I’ve felt really Zimbabwean.”

In 2003, the Charleswood Estate in Chimanimani, owned by Mr. Bennett and his family, was invaded. Mr. Bennett condemned the seizure as illegal. In a raucous exchange in Parliament the following year, the country’s justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, told Mr. Bennett that his ancestors had been “thieves and murderers.” A scuffle broke out and Mr. Bennett shoved Mr. Chinamasa to the ground; he was imprisoned for a year for assault.

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Granted early release for good behavior, Mr. Bennett complained of prison abuses, saying that he had been issued a uniform covered in excrement and lice, and made to stand naked in front of guards.

By then, Mr. Bennett had become a top deputy of Mr. Tsvangirai, and he was named the party’s general treasurer. Fearing rearrest, he fled to South Africa in 2006 and was eventually granted asylum there. But he agreed to return in 2008, when Mr. Tsvangirai defeated Mr. Mugabe in the first round of a presidential election.

Mr. Mugabe’s supporters complained that white farmers were returning “in droves” to reclaim their land under Mr. Tsvangirai, a charge that Mr. Bennett called “absolute nonsense.” But amid rising violence, Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff, following a fierce internal debate.

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“Pulling out of the elections now would be giving in to a violent dictator who is prepared to wage war on his own people to stay in power,” Mr. Bennett, who was acting as the party’s spokesman, said at the time.

Mr. Bennett was named deputy agriculture minister under a power-sharing government led by Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai as prime minister. But on his return to Zimbabwe in February 2009, he was promptly arrested and charged with treason, ostensibly in connection with a cache of arms found at his home in 2006. Mr. Tsvangirai denounced the arrest as politically motivated and warned that military intelligence officials — who remained loyal to Mr. Mugabe — had plotted to harm Mr. Bennett.

The government’s case was based mostly on testimony from a witness, Peter Michael Hitschman, who, it later emerged, had been tortured — his buttocks were burned with cigarettes — and told that his wife and son would be harmed if he did not implicate Mr. Bennett. The trial began in October 2009. In March 2010, a judge ruled that Mr. Hitschman’s testimony had been coerced. That May, Mr. Bennett was acquitted.

Barred from joining the government, Mr. Bennett began to devote most of his time to farming in Zambia and South Africa; he also spent time in Colorado.

He is survived by a daughter, Casey, and a son, Charles.

Mr. Mugabe resigned in November, after an internal power struggle, and was replaced by his former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who this week pledged to hold “free and fair” elections in five months.

Beatrice Mtetwa, a prominent human rights lawyer, praised Mr. Bennett as a patriot. “His passion for Zimbabwe will remain unmatched,” she said. “It was always ironic for me that those who claim to have fought for the country followed destructive policies, whilst he looked at making a better country for all who live in it.”


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Trump is the ‘most pro-life president in American history,’ Pence says

January 19, 2018 by  
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WASHINGTON — Vice President Pence greeted anti-abortion activists Thursday night on the eve of the March for Life, saying President Trump has “made a difference for life” in his first year in office. 

On Friday, Trump will become the first president to directly address the 45-year-old anti-abortion protest march. Previous presidents — including Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush — have done so with a phone call or recorded message. Trump will do it in the White House Rose Garden.

It’s part of an effort by the Trump administration to show off its anti-abortion credentials as the 45th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade approaches next week.

Trump’s own history on the issue is complicated. In 1999, he called himself “very pro-choice.” Declaring his his anti-abortion credentials in his presidential campaign, he bucked the movement’s orthodoxy by saying women who obtain abortions should be punished.

But on Thursday, Pence called Trump “the most pro-life president in American history.”

He boasted of a litany of anti-abortion measures by the Trump administration over its first year: Banning federal funds for global health groups that promote abortion under the “Mexico City policy,” defunding the United Nations Population Fund, and overturning an Obama administration rule that required states to provide funding for Planned Parenthood.

“You made that happen. Your efforts over the years, over the decades, standing tirelessly for the sanctity of life, has brought this day about, this year about,” he said.

Also Thursday, the Trump administration announced that it would support the rights of health care workers who object to abortion, birth control or sex-change operations based on their religious convictions.

More: New federal office to protect consciences, religious objections of health care professionals

Pence predicted that Republican majorities in Congress and Trump in the White House would lead to a watershed moment in the coming years.

“I truly believe, with all of my heart, this is the pro-life generation in America,” Pence said. “And I truly believe, in this generation, we will restore the sanctity of life to the center of American law once again.”

More: Gay Olympian Adam Rippon blasts selection of Mike Pence to lead U.S. delegation