/ 2 August 2009

Robert Mugabe ‘in bid to wreck unity’

Zimbabwe is on the verge of a new political crisis, amid growing evidence that President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party has launched a strategy to wipe out the former opposition’s slim parliamentary majority.

The campaign has in the past few days seen MPs for the Movement for Democratic Change arrested for offences including playing music that ”denigrates” Mugabe, and stealing a cellphone.

Fourteen MDC MPs and senators are facing charges ranging from corruption to rape. If convicted, they will lose their seats, forcing by-elections. Less than six months after MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister, the strategy again raises questions about the role of the country’s courts and police.

On Saturday, many Zimbabweans were outraged after a court in Chivhu imposed a fine of just $200 on Chinoona Mwanda — who had been found guilty of culpable homicide, after the March 6 incident when his truck swerved into the path of Tsvangirai’s car, killing Susan, his wife of 31 years.

Finance minister Tendai Biti — who last Monday received a live bullet and a death note in his letterbox — said: ”There is a junta that is totally unhappy with the current set-up and is doing everything legal and extra-legal to disturb it.” Asked whether Mugabe is in control of the ”junta” or if it is acting independently, Biti said he has ”no idea”.

The upper echelons of Tsvangirai’s party — which has 100 seats against the 99 of Zanu-PF — maintain, as does Mugabe, that the inclusive government is working. They point to the end of hyperinflation, when Biti abolished the Zimbabwe dollar five months ago, and argue they have gently restarted the economy by paying civil servants between $100 and $200 a month. Cities — if not rural areas — are better off. But grassroots MPs warn the inclusive government is close to collapse. They say Zanu-PF, backed by the police and army, is deploying divide-and-rule tactics, from Parliament and the senate, right down to grain distribution in rural areas.

Trevor Saruwaka, a 34-year-old MDC MP for Mutasa Central is facing separate prosecutions for rape and assault, both of which he denies. ”There is a pattern to the prosecutions. I am one of seven MDC politicians targeted in Manicaland — the birthplace of Zimbabwean freedom leaders. If Zanu-PF kill the spirit in Manicaland they believe they can kill the spirit of all Zimbabweans. We are going to see more prosecutions. They are a sure way to kill the unity government,” he said.

Among MPs so far targeted there is evidence of deliberate misuse of the justice system. MDC deputy youth minister Thamsanqa Mahlangu, who was arrested on Tuesday and charged with stealing a mobile phone, was initially granted $50 bail. But the state prosecutor invoked the draconian Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to suspend bail and keep him in custody. Stewart Garadhi, an MP for Chinhoyi, was arrested on Friday for playing Nharembozha — an MDC campaign song — on charges of ”denigrating” Mugabe. He remained in custody on Saturday night. Most of the 14 MPs targeted face charges of abusing the state farm supplies programme. One, Ernest Mudavanhu, MDC MP for Zaka North, has already been convicted and is serving a 12-month jail sentence.

Saruwaka said: ”The irony is total. We know the names of all the Zanu-PF officials who keep the patronage system going by diverting farm inputs. We know the names of the corrupt, and the leaders of the thugs. None of them are in court.”

Analysts say the strategy of picking off MPs to nullify the MDC’s gains in last year’s elections is a classic tactic of Mugabe’s movement.

They say Western governments are reluctant to engage with the unity government — despite pleas from Tsvangirai — because they fear the re-emergence of such ”dark forces”.

One senior European diplomat said: ”When the inclusive government began work, Zanu-PF looked wrong-footed. But the emergence now of this proactive strategy shows they were gathering strength to undermine the MDC’s majority. What is most worrying is that we are not seeing any counter-tactic from the MDC. They just seem resigned.”

Former anti-apartheid leader and Mugabe critic Peter Hain said on Saturday during a visit to Bala, in Wales: ”This is extremely disturbing. Mugabe’s henchmen cannot be allowed to reverse an election defeat by picking off their opponents in the MDC. International leaders and especially Zimbabwe’s African neighbours must act.”

Tsvangirai puts on a brave face but is deeply worried. This weekend, he travelled to South Africa, saying he would meet President Jacob Zuma. However, Zuma’s office denied the existence of such a meeting. Biti said: ”You get the feeling that because the negotiations under Mbeki were so bitter, no one wants to touch us.” – guardian.co.uk