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Mugabe's party accused of using targeted arrests to regain power

Text by Alex DUVAL SMITH , in Harare, Zimbabwe

Latest update : 2009-08-03

Amid a wave of arrests of politicians in Zimbabwe, the former opposition is accusing supporters of President Robert Mugabe (pictured) of using the courts to wipe out their party’s parliamentary majority.

Twelve members of parliament and one senator from the Movement for Democratic Change, formerly the country's main opposition force, are currently facing court cases or appeals for a range of offences, including terrorism, corruption, rape and theft. They will be disqualified from Parliament if convicted, leading to by-elections for their seats.

“It is definitely a planned operation, targeting seats which ZANU-PF would like to see as its own,’’ said an MDC spokesman, Nelson Chamisa.

The MDC’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, was sworn in as prime minister in February. His party holds 100 seats in Parliament, against 99 for Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front.

In last year’s hotly disputed and violent parliamentary elections, 10 seats went to a breakaway faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara, and one was won by an independent candidate.

Tendai Biti, the finance minister, has not been accused of a crime, but he received a live bullet and a death note in his letterbox on July 27.

Biti said the strategy was unsurprising: “Everyone knows there is a junta that is totally unhappy with the current set-up, and it is doing everything legal and extra-legal to disturb it.’’

Asked whether Mugabe was in control of the “junta’’ or whether it was acting independently, Biti said he had “no idea’’.

Most of the MDC politicians targeted so far are facing charges of having abused the state's farm-supplies programme. One, Ernest Mudavanhu, MDC parliament member for Zaka North, has been convicted and is serving a 12-month jail sentence. Another, Roy Bennett, a senator facing terrorism charges, is still waiting to be sworn in as deputy agriculture minister.

The most recent arrest was on Friday, when the MDC’s MP for Chinhoyi, Stewart Garadhi, was accused of “denigrating” President Robert Mugabe by playing an MDC campaign song, “Nharembozha”. He was later released and the charges were dropped.

The MDC's MP for Mutasa Central, Trevor Saruwaka, is facing two charges – one of rape and another of assault – both of which he claims are fabricated.

“This wave of arrests and court cases is one sure way of killing the unity government,” said Saruwaka. “Our cases are being rushed through the courts at a speed unknown to Zimbabwe. 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 corruptors and the leaders of the thugs. None of them are in court – only MPs like us who try to ensure farm inputs are fairly distributed.’’

In the cases of the MPs who have been targeted so far, there is evidence of the harshest use of the justice system. Thamsanqa Mahlangu, the MDC deputy minister for youth, was arrested last July 28 and charged with stealing a mobile phone. He was initially granted bail of 50 US dollars. But the state prosecutor invoked the draconian Criminal Procedure and Evidence Act to suspend bail and keep Mahlangu in custody.

The MDC is in government as a result of a South African-brokered power-sharing deal called the “global political agreement”. The deal protects parliamentary seats that are left vacant by the death or imprisonment of any MP, but that protection lapses on September 15 – a year after the signing of the agreement.

Analysts say the power-sharing agreement was always too weak to succeed. Brian Mangwende, news editor of the Financial Gazette, a weekly Zimbabwe newspaper, said: “The deal did not give Tsvangirai’s MDC any real power. It just gave ZANU-PF time to regroup ahead of future elections.’’

While officially claiming that the unity government is a success, the MDC is deeply worried that it could lose seats left vacant by convicted MPs. If by-elections are held, it fears they will be marred by violence.

Date created : 2009-08-03

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