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White Zimbabwean takes a stand

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Three generations of Roy Bennett's family have owned farms amid the rocky outcrops jutting up between the pine and wattle trees here. He is popular in town, and speaks fluent Shona, the main language of the black majority. Mr. Bennett is just one of the locals, he even has a Shona nickname - Pachedu, meaning "together."

But he is white and defiant. And in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF Party and an army of war veterans are meting out violent punishment to opponents, both qualities make him a target.

In the past three months, more than 1,200 white-owned farms have been occupied, four white farmers have been killed, and some 20 others have died in the violence.

But despite Mr. Mugabe's announcement May 16 that parliamentary elections will take place on June 24 and 25, many doubt just how fair they will be - and how soon the violence and intimidation will end.

Against this backdrop of fear and retaliation, Bennett took a stand in a dramatic confrontation last week. Bennett had switched camps from Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party, and decided to run on the opposition Movement for Democratic Change ticket.

This infuriated ZANU-PF officials, because ZANU-PF's present, unpopular candidate is retiring, and they say Bennett has a real chance to win.

On May 4, party thugs attacked the house of Bennett's campaign manager, James Mukwaya, smashing all the windows and damaging the roof.

Then last week, the local head of ZANU-PF led about 50 party supporters armed with sticks and machetes in an invasion of Bennett's farm. His workers were rounded up and forced to chant ZANU-PF slogans, according to Rocky Stone, the farm manager who later fled.

"Pamberi ZANU-PF, [Forward with ZANU PF]," one of the invaders shouted in Shona at one of Bennett's farm workers.


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