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 Prison:
“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 happy.”
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.