Tsvangirai demands Zim activists' release

Zimbabwe’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, on Thursday demanded the unconditional release of detained party activists before a power-sharing deal with Zanu-PF leader Robert Mugabe can be implemented.

Tsvangirai told a news conference in South Africa that he remained committed to the power-sharing agreement signed by Zimbabwe’s rival political parties in September, but said he lacked a credible partner.

The MDC leader said there have been several breaches of the agreement by Mugabe’s government, including the abduction and detention of opposition activists.

“These must stop immediately and those abducted and illegally detained must be released unconditionally if this agreement is to be consummated,” Tsvangirai said.

The power-sharing agreement is still seen as the best chance of preventing total economic collapse in once-prosperous Zimbabwe. It now suffers hyper-inflation and food shortages while a cholera epidemic has killed more than 2 000 people.

United States-based Human Rights Watch said at least 43 MDC members have been unlawfully detained since October.

“Zimbabwe authorities are putting lives at risk by secretly detaining MDC members and rights activists. Those unlawfully held should be freed immediately,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

Among those arrested is human rights campaigner Jestina Mukoko, accused with the others of plotting to topple Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980.

Zimbabwe’s chief justice on Wednesday ordered urgent medical care for Mukoko and other activists, who say they were tortured while in police custody.
Zimbabwe’s government denies torturing activists.

Tsvangirai said he would this week meet Mugabe and South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, the current chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to discuss the power-sharing deal.

While Botswana and Zambia have been highly critical of Mugabe, other SADC states have failed to force implementation of power-sharing despite repeated calls for help from Tsvangirai.

“I still believe that a political agreement offers the best means of preventing Zimbabwe from becoming a failed state. I am committed to forming a new inclusive government in Zimbabwe and all I lack is a willing partner,” Tsvangirai said.

Tsvangirai said he will return to Zimbabwe on Saturday for the first time since November last year.

Spiralling crisis
Meanwhile, the failure of African leaders to address Zimbabwe’s spiralling crisis has become a “blot on the credibility” of regional peace efforts, HRW said in its annual report on Wednesday.

The report singled out South Africa for particular criticism, saying that former president Thabo Mbeki had strayed from the ideals that guided the struggle against apartheid.

“Under [former] president Thabo Mbeki, rather than join a global movement to apply pressure on the Zimbabwean government to stop its repression, Pretoria refused to speak out,” it said.

“As a result, the South African government was seen as backing a repressive leader rather than his suffering victims,” it added.

The report noted that Mbeki had brokered a power-sharing deal between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, but said the pact quickly deadlocked over disputes on how to form a joint Cabinet.

“Zimbabwe’s political situation remains precarious, and the future looks bleak if the political leadership does not end abuses,” it said.

The African Union and the 15-nation SADC have also failed to take strong action on Zimbabwe, even amid spiralling political violence, worsening food shortages and a deadly cholera epidemic, the report said.

“The role of SADC and the AU remains crucial in ensuring a peaceful return to the rule of law and respect for human rights, but the ongoing situation is a blot of the credibility of their commitment to an effective regional solution,” it added.—Reuters, AFP

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