Exiled Zimbabwe opposition leader Roy Bennett and four other people were killed in a helicopter crash in a remote northern part of the U.S. state of New Mexico, officials and his political party said on Thursday.
The crash of a private Huey helicopter in rugged terrain near Raton, New Mexico, on Wednesday evening killed Bennett, 60, along with his wife, Heather Bennett, 55, James Coleman Dodd, 57, of Colorado, Charles Ryland Burnett, 61, of Texas and Paul Cobb, 67, of Texas, New Mexico State Police said.
Bennett, a former treasurer general of the opposition MDC party, was an important figure in Zimbabwean politics and served time in prison under former President Robert Mugabe. He recently told CNN that his country would never again let itself be ruled by a dictatorship.
Roy was a resolute and committed fighter for democratic change in Zimbabwe.
“Roy was a resolute and committed fighter for democratic change in Zimbabwe,” the MDC said in a statement.
The party described Bennett as a charismatic grassroots politician and successful farmer in the country’s eastern Chimanimani District. He was fluent in Zimbabwe’s Shona language, it said, and had helped hundreds of impoverished villagers pay school fees for their children.
Though white, Bennett fought for the rights of black Zimbabweans, the party said, and had the nickname “Pachedu,” a Shona word that translates as “together” or “one of us.”
Tributes to the fallen leader are being shared on social media.
Just learnt of the tragic passing on in Canada of Heather and Roy Pachedu Badze Bennett. What a serious loss to mankind What a blow to Charles and the rest of the family . What a blow to our struggle . I can’t believe I can’t believe I will never speak to you again Badze !— TENDAI BITI (@BitiTendai) January 18, 2018
I’m devastated as I have just received tragic news about Roy Bennet and wife’s involvement in a helicopter crash while in Canada.— nelson chamisa (@nelsonchamisa) January 18, 2018
I remember when I was a reporter at The Standard & called Roy Bennett. Didn't know then that he spoke Shona. I kept asking for Mr Bennett. He kept shouting back “ndati ndivo vano VaBennett”. And I was wondering which fella is this taking me for a fool in that Manyika accent. RIP.— Ranga.?? (@RangaMberi) January 18, 2018
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was investigating the crash 15 miles (24 km) east of Raton.