Couple look forward to the end of Mugabe

THE end of Robert Mugabe s reign in Zimbabwe could mark the close of a Highgate couple s epic campaign. Rose and Dennis Benton have spent every Saturday for the past five and a half years camped outside the Zimbabwean Embassy in Charing Cross

Tan Parsons

THE end of Robert Mugabe's reign in Zimbabwe could mark the close of a Highgate couple's epic campaign.

Rose and Dennis Benton have spent every Saturday for the past five and a half years camped outside the Zimbabwean Embassy in Charing Cross, leading protests against human rights abuses in the African country.

The couple, who live in Dartmouth Park Hill, are key members of the Zimbabwe Vigil which has sworn to continue until internationally monitored, free and fair elections are held in Zimbabwe.

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They and other demonstrators, including refugees who escaped torture, are hoping the recent election results are made public and bring an end to the regime of terror.

"I think the situation there at the moment is agonising," said Mrs Benton. "As far as I can tell it looks like it's going to go to a run-off presidential election and that means another agonising wait.

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"But the senate results are coming out now and Mugabe has lost control - it's a huge breakthrough."

If the Zimbabwean president does lose his grip on power, the couple will finally be able to reclaim their Saturdays - although they will still remain involved with the vigil.

"I hope that once Mugabe is gone it will pave the way for the regeneration of Zimbabwe," said Mrs Benton.

"The international community will pour in to offer a lot of help once that happens. But we will have to watch the politicians in Zimbabwe - Africa has a habit of people changing their colours once they get into power."

Mrs Benton was born in Zimbabwe but her family left the country in the late 1960s because they felt Ian Smith's UDI was the wrong way forward for the country.

With her husband, she brought up their children in Highgate but remained in touch with her sisters who stayed behind in Zimbabwe.

In 2001, she returned to visit the farm where she grew up and found it had been occupied by war veterans from Mugabe's ruling Zanu PF party. It now lies derelict.

When she returned to Britain, she joined a group of like minded-people and from that the Zimbabwe Vigil started, with Ms Benton becoming its co-ordinator.

"It really has been an extraordinary journey," she said. "When I take things on, I see them through."

Mrs Benton has been a member of St Michael's Church choir for years and has made good friends who are supportive of her protest work.

Through the church, she has been involved in two big campaigns to buy vehicles for pastors in Zimbabwe who are involved in helping transport people displaced by Mugabe's "Clean out the Trash" campaign.

"I just don't believe the Zanu PF party received as many votes as they say," she said. "The fact that the Electoral Commission is going to announce the potential run-off, and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai is six percentage points ahead of Mugabe, means Mugabe is being prevented from rigging things. What's actually going on there is anybody's guess at the moment."

Mr Benton added: "The British government will send a lot of the refugees back once Mugabe is out of power. That is unless they have already got their papers or been granted leave to remain.

"Some of them will want to go back and some of them won't - but it's something I don't think many of them have really considered."

The couple have decided they will certainly take more of a back seat once the regime changes although they admit that, from a selfish point of view, they will be reluctant to lose contact with the vigil entirely because they have made so many friends.

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