By Lance Guma
27 January 2010
An attempt by the state to use the testimony of an arms dealer, wrongfully imprisoned over 3 years ago, is spectacularly backfiring in the High Court. On Wednesday Peter Hitschmann told the court that MDC Treasurer-General Roy Bennett was not involved in any terrorism plot against Robert Mugabe’s regime. Only a few days ago a judge ruled that the confession from Hitschmann in 2006 was obtained through torture by state security agents.
Soon after his release in 2009 Hitschmann told SW Radio Africa in an interview, “I was kicked in the testicles a few times and then they resorted to using cigarettes on my buttocks. But more effectively they arrested my wife and my son.” He was told that if he didn’t confess, his family would join him at the army barracks where he was detained.
This week Hitschmann was declared ‘a hostile witness’ meaning the state can cross examine him even though he was meant to be their star witness. But he shot more holes through the state case when he told the judge that Bennett had nothing to with the firearms he kept and that he did not provide any funding for any plot to topple the government. The state insists Bennett deposited funds into Hitschmann’s Mozambican bank account and produced two printed e-mails printed as evidence.
The defence however questioned the authenticity of the e-mails, saying they could have been written and printed from anywhere. The judge now has to rule on whether the e-mails are admissible as evidence in court.
Hitschmann, who is a former policeman and licenced arms dealer, had collected guns from displaced white commercial farmers. He said during the farm invasions he acted as a conduit for firearms for the police. The receipts he got when he handed the weapons to the police mysteriously disappeared when he was arrested. According to testimony he provided to the court, one of his clients included the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, who bought arms from him, allegedly for their security needs.
Hitschmann became a convenient tool for the state to use in its attempts to harass and frustrate Bennett who, as a farmer, was forced off his Charleswood Estate in Manicaland. The State has been relentless in its harassment of Bennett and in 2004, when Bennett pushed Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa in Parliament after a heated argument, he was jailed for a year with hard labour by a ZANU PF dominated parliament. It’s thought because of the incident the Justice Minister remains determined to make his life a living hell.
In this latest case Bennett is charged with committing terrorism, banditry and sabotage. The state case is that he wanted to assassinate key government figures and also blow up a major communication link in Bromley. But originally Pachedu, as he is affectionately known in MDC circles, did not hang around to be tried by a compromised judiciary. He fled to South Africa where he was to spend some time in exile. Hitschmann however remained behind and was tried and convicted in a farcical process that saw him spend 3 years and 4 months in prison.
When the coalition government was eventually formed Bennett returned to Zimbabwe, only for the supposed new partners in the government, ZANU PF, to turn on him and arrest him a few days before he was to be sworn in as Deputy Agriculture Minister. The current co-Home Affairs Minister, Giles Mutsekwa, was another MDC official arrested in 2006 over the same alleged plot but later acquitted.
Bennett remains a key target, with some analysts suggesting Mugabe is desperate to block a displaced former white farmer from becoming Deputy Agriculture Minister.
On Wednesday, MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the party was firmly behind Bennett and his nomination as the Deputy Agriculture Minister. He said events in the case so far, including Hitschmanns’ testimony, had vindicated the party position that Bennett is an innocent man.