/ 16 September 2007

Mugabe consolidating power, say analysts

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is consolidating his hold on power as he ruthlessly tackles his arch-critics ahead of 2008 polls in which he is a candidate, analysts say.

His latest victim is former Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Pius Ncube, one of his strongest critics, who resigned this week from his post in the aftermath of an alleged adultery scandal.

The government mouthpiece Herald newspaper had published in July some compromising pictures which it said depicted the then-cleric having sex with another man’s wife.

Ncube (60), who has been head of the Bulawayo Diocese since 1998, said his resignation was intended to save the church from further attacks and enable him to challenge the adultery charge in court in his private capacity.

”What they did to Ncube was to send a warning to all critics,” said Bill Saidi, a political commentator and journalist. ”The whole plan was absolutely ruthless.”

But ”they can’t blame Ncube for the crisis we are in. The question is: 27 years after independence, where are we as a nation? The shops are empty,” he added.

Eldred Masunugure, a lecturer in political science at the University of Zimbabwe, said the government has managed successfully to push out Ncube as it did not want to be seen clashing with the Catholic Church.

Mugabe (83) is a Catholic.

”The government did not want to deal with him whilst he was wearing the Roman Catholic garb, they wanted to deal with him personally,” he said.

Mugabe’s position has also been consolidated by the division within the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), since its leader Morgan Tsvangirai decided to boycott senate elections last November.

Showing who is in charge

Early this month, Tsvangirai was detained briefly by police and later charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly causing mayhem when he toured retail shops last month.

”With Tsvangirai they tried everything, they charged him with treason and that could not suffice, now they are charging him with disorderly conduct. They beat him up in March, and at one stage tried to beat him whilst he was in hospital,” Saidi said.

Rights activist Lovemore Madhuku said that the government crackdown against critics will continue. ”By charging Tsvangirai for that petty issue, they want to show who is in power,” he said.

”When they placed those cameras in Pius Ncube’s bedroom, they wanted to show that they can do anything to anyone … and show who is in charge. They have managed to do just that.”

Takura Zhangazha, a Harare-based political analyst, said despite the scheming by Mugabe’s government towards perceived foes, people are not relenting, citing a two-day job stayaway called for next week by a labour union to protest the economic meltdown in the country.

Charging Tsvangirai with disorderly conduct was a ploy by the ruling party to hit back at him after he paid a week-long visit to Australia, Mugabe’s foe country, which recently cancelled the visas of eight Zimbabwean students whose parents are linked to the regime, said Zhangazha.

”It’s now a bit of tit-for-tat between [ruling] Zanu-PF and the MDC,” he added.

But Deputy Information Minister Bright Matonga dismissed allegations that the government of Mugabe was deliberately out to silence his arch-critics, explaining that they deserved what they got.

”Tsvangirai is an agent of imperialism and he won’t be spared if he commits a crime … Ncube resigned on his own and that is an admission that he committed a crime,” he charged.

”The government is not suing Pius Ncube. He has the platform to do what he wants, but he knows as the government what we are capable of doing. But this is not a threat against him,” he said. — Sapa-AFP