SW Radio Africa (London)

25 March 2009

Zimbabwe: Mugabe Refusing to Swear in Bennett

It's reported that Robert Mugabe is refusing to swear in Roy Bennett, the MDC Deputy Minister of Agriculture designate, to the new coalition government. It was expected that the former commercial farmer would be sworn in at the same time as the governors. But the issue of the governors is also still unresolved.

The MDC politician fulfilled the first stage of becoming a cabinet minister by being sworn in as a non-constituency Senator last Wednesday. This was to enable him to take up his role, as only members of parliament and the senate can be government ministers.

He missed the swearing in of Deputy Ministers after he was slapped with what the MDC has described as extremely dubious terrorism charges, and locked up in a Mutare Remand Prison.

According to MDC officials, Mugabe told a cabinet caucus on Monday that he will not swear in Bennett, claiming he is facing serious charges. This is despite the fact that the President swore in some MDC officials such as Minister Eric Matinenga, who also still faces trumped up political charges.

During the meeting it's alleged that Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara asked Mugabe what would happen if Bennett was acquitted. Mugabe is reported to have said; 'He will never be acquitted'.

We were not able to reach the Deputy Prime Minister to confirm this.

But MDC officials in the meeting say Mugabe's true feelings for Bennett were exposed during the caucus meeting on Monday. Apparently the President wanted to know why everyone is 'so fixated with Bennett', with Mugabe asking questions such as: "What is it about Roy Bennett? Who is he? Can't the MDC get another person?'

It is not clear why Mugabe is so hostile towards Bennett or what Bennett might have done to warrant such deep hatred.

We were not able to get a comment from Bennett but it is understood he is seriously concerned about his welfare. He also told the MDC leadership that he would not mind stepping down from the position of Deputy Minister if it would help, as he could still concentrate on working within the party. But we are told the MDC leadership insist that they are entitled to choose whoever they want to put in government and will stick with their decision as a matter of principle.

What happens next waits to be seen, as it has also emerged that Mugabe is refusing to give any ground over the issue of governors and permanent secretaries. He is insisting that he won the June 27th run off and is entitled to appoint these officials. All three political parties had agreed that the MDC-T would have 5 governors, ZANU PF 4 and 1 from the MDC-M.

But MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said the issue of the governors and permanent secretaries is still under discussion by the three principals - Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Mutambara. He said the discussion had been put on hold because the Prime Minister was not available, having taken time off to recuperate after the tragic accident that killed his wife and left him injured.

Chamisa said there are several issues that remain unresolved for the unity government such as, the appointments of Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana, Bennett's swearing in, the issue of the farm invasions and the dispute over Chamisa's Information and Technology Ministry.

In a related matter, a Prime Minister traditionally moves into State House, but it is also reported that Mugabe is refusing to make way for Morgan Tsvangirai as he uses State House for official functions, such as receiving ambassadors and visiting Heads of State. Mugabe occupies Zimbabwe House and uses the State House for official engagements.

When asked for comment, Tsvangirai's spokesman James Maridadi said the Prime Minister was not keen to occupy the State House. Maridadi said: "The last time I spoke to the Prime Minister about the issue of his residence, he said Zimbabwe needs economic stability and national healing and those are his issues of priority. Not the kind of house he is going to sleep in or the kind of car he is going to drive."

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