TCS Daily


South African Shame

By Marian Tupy - June 12, 2006 12:00 AM

On May 26, South African government denied political asylum to Roy Bennett, the outspoken critic of Zimbabwe's ruler Robert Mugabe and former member of that country's Parliament. Bennett fled to South Africa in April 2006 to escape incarceration on trumped-up charges of attempting to assassinate Mugabe. If returned to Zimbabwe, he will likely end up in jail. Bennett's treatment stands in stark contrast with Pretoria's treatment of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, whose corrupt and authoritarian rule over Haiti did not prevent him from getting an asylum in South Africa. Clearly, as far a Pretoria is concerned, not all political refugees are equal.

Bennett made the news in May 2004, when he scuffled with Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa on the floor of Zimbabwe's Parliament. Bennett, who lost his farm during Mugabe's disastrous land expropriation policy, lost his cool when Chinamasa said that Bennett "has not forgiven the government for acquiring his farm, but he forgets that his forefathers were thieves and murderers." Though he later apologized for the incident, Bennett was sentenced to one year in prison by the Parliament dominated by Mugabe's loyalists. Bennett was "made to stand naked in front of prison guards and ... given a prison uniform covered with human excrement." While in jail, the once stocky farmer ruined his health and lost 66 pounds.

Earlier this year, Bennett went into hiding and later fled to South Africa. His flight followed the alleged discovery of an arms cache on a farm in eastern Zimbabwe. The government immediately started rounding up opposition figures and put out a warrant for Bennett's arrest. Once he arrived in South Africa, Bennett petitioned for political asylum under that country's 1998 Refugees Act. According to the act,

"no person may be refused entry into [South Africa], expelled, extradited or returned to any other country ... if as a result of such refusal, expulsion, extradition, return or other measure, such person is compelled to return to or remain in a country where he or she may be subjected to persecution on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group; or his or her life, physical safety or freedom would be threatened on account of external aggression, occupation, foreign domination or other events seriously disturbing or disrupting public order in either part or the whole of that country."

Under normal circumstances, Bennett would have a strong case for remaining in South Africa. He is a political refugee from a country where public order and the rule of law have totally broken down. The government routinely ignores court orders it disagrees with and murders its political opponents. The country's economy is being run by and for the benefit of Mugabe and his cronies. And there is little doubt that Bennett's personal safety would be imperiled, considering that Zimbabwe's Security Minister Didymus Mutasa already threatened the regime's opponents with physical elimination. Absurdly, Mutasa's fellow cabinet minister in charge of Home Affairs, Kembo Mohadi, recently stated that the government has "never persecuted anybody in Zimbabwe."

However, South Africa's ruling elite is strangely enamored with Mugabe, the former Marxist revolutionary turned despot. South Africans have pursued a policy of appeasement toward Mugabe, which they euphemistically call "quiet diplomacy." The policy has been a massive failure. In the last few years, Zimbabwe deteriorated into a primeval state marked by violence, famine and disease, 80 percent unemployment, and 1,000 percent inflation.

And so Bennett's request for political asylum was denied. Contrast that with Pretoria's treatment of the deposed ex-president of Haiti Jean-Bertrand Aristide. According to a report by the U.S. State Department, Aristide ran a "corrupt" government "shot through with drug money." Another recent report by the U.S. Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs claimed that "8 percent of illegal drugs entering the United States had passed through Haiti." Moreover, during his 2004 trial in Florida, Beaudoin Ketant, a former confidant of Aristide's and his daughter's godfather, testified that Aristide "controlled the drug trade in Haiti. He turned the country into a narco-country. It's a one-man show. You either pay [Aristide] or you die."

In December 2005, Raoul Peck, who was Haiti's Minister of Culture under Prime Minister Rosny Smarth, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, that Aristide "turned into a mob leader. The language of reconciliation gave way to the "necklacing" of political opponents, the firebombing of radio stations, homes and offices of opponents, the murder of journalists like Jean Dominique and Brignol Lindor, and the unwillingness to bring the criminals to justice. Hired thugs raped and kidnapped even the poorest of the poor in the slums that Aristide always pretended he was defending." South African government's response to the mounting evidence of Aristide's misrule was to send him a shipment of armaments to keep him in power. When that failed, he was welcomed to South Africa, where he enjoys luxurious exile paid for by the South African taxpayer.

Pretoria's treatment of Bennett drips with hypocrisy. Isn't it about time that South African government started living by the high principles it preaches around the world?

Marian L. Tupy is Assistant Director of the Project on Global Economic Liberty at the Cato Institute.

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3 Comments

African Shame

A story about three commie country's which is sad ...

R C Cameron

An excellent article - but comment is difficult
Normally one would know immediately that South Africa treats Mr. Bennett different from Mr. Aristide because it is a racist state with a racist government.

But the "new" South Africa is by definition not capable of the sin of racism.

Similarly Mr. Mugabe can perhaps be misgoverning his people, but he cannot be oppressing them because only folks like Mr. Bennett can oppress the predominant group of people in Zimbabwe.

Corrupt Governments usually support each other
"Pretoria's treatment of Bennett drips with hypocrisy. Isn't it about time that South African government started living by the high principles it preaches around the world?"

How can you claim hypocrisy? The real problem is much more serious. The idealism of end end of apartide has deteriorated into corruption as bad as what they lived with in the past.

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