Zimbabwe's opposition leader Roy Bennett was killed when a helicopter he was traveling on crashed in the US state of New Mexico. Bennett has been harshly criticized by Robert Mugabe due to his white farmer background.
The 60-year-old Roy Bennett was one of five people killed in a New Mexico helicopter crash, US police said on Thursday. His wife was also among the causalities.
Authorities said six people were aboard the aircraft, which was heading towards Colorado when it went down in a remote mountainous area in New Mexico. One of the passengers survived and managed to use her cellphone to call 911.
The cause of the crash was not immediately clear. The US Federal Aviation Administration is investigating the incident.
Bennett, one of the few prominent white politicians in Zimbabwe, was a popular figure among the voters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, which is led by Morgan Tsvangirai.
Bennett has served as MDC's treasurer general and was appointed deputy of Zimbabwe's agricultural minister, but the country's long-time strongman Robert Mugabe refused to swear him in.
MDC spokesman Obert Gutu described Bennett's death as a "huge and tragic loss."
'One of us'
Bennet was born into a family of white ranchers and was himself a successful coffee farmer. He was fluent in Shona, one of the native languages used in Zimbabwe, and managed to win the support of black voters in his rural area. In Shona, he was nicknamed "Pachedu" which translates to "one of us" or "among us."
Former Finance Minister Tendai Biti said the news of Bennett's death was a "blow to our struggle."
Bennett's political rise angered Mugabe and his allies, who accused him of reaping the benefits of white colonialism.
Prison term after attacking a minister
He was first elected to the parliament in 2000. In 2004, he physically assaulted then-justice minister, Patrick Chinamasa, during the parliament debate after the minister said Bennett's "forefathers were thieves and murderers."
Bennett was convicted over the attack and served 15 months in prison. After being released, he reported being tortured and losing 30 kilos (66 kilos) while behind bars. He also spoke of mistreatment towards other prisoners.
Soon after his release, the Mugabe government accused him of a plot to kill the president. Bennett fled to South Africa where he was approved asylum. He returned to Zimbabwe in 2009 to take up the post of deputy agriculture minister but left again after he was accused of treason by the regime.
He continued his criticism of the Mugabe from exile. Notably, he decried the Zimbabwe elites for enjoying luxuries while the rest of the people were suffering from poverty.
dj/rc (dpa, AP, Reuters)