Mugabe using police to crush opposition, MDC says
Law enforcement officials are carrying out a covert operation to arrest Movement for Democratic Change politicians on trumped up charges as a way to diminish the opposition's clout in a fragile unity government, say MDC officials.
Johannesburg, South Africa; and Harare, Zimbabwe
The party of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is working with the country's law enforcement agencies in a covert operation designed to harass, intimidate, and decimate its chief partner in Zimbabwe's fragile, seven-month-old coalition government, the Movement for Democratic Change, MDC officials have told the Monitor.Skip to next paragraph
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The covert operation targets MDC supporters in rural areas – despite an agreement between the two parties to work together to rebuild the country and its shattered economy – the MDC says. The operation aims to arrest or intimidate enough of MDC's parliamentarians to winnow down MDC's its majority, and thus retain political control.
MDC deputy national organizing secretary Morgan Komichi says that Mugabe's party, the ZANU-PF, continues to use its militia, including so-called "war veterans" and others used in land invasions of white farmers, along with the police, to silence its MDC parliamentarians, and is also turning the heat on ordinary supporters of the MDC in the rural areas.
"This strategy [of arresting of members of Parliament] has been extended to our ordinary members of our party," says Mr. Komichi. "ZANU-PF is using the police and the Central Intelligence Organization (CIO) to harass our members."
Unity government close to collapse?
If the MDC is right, then Zimbabwe's peace agreement and its coalition government – hammered out after months of violence that followed the April 2008 elections – may be close to collapse. Negotiations between Mugabe's ZANU- PF and the MDC of Morgan Tsvangirai this week are said to be heated, with both sides accusing the other of reneging on their commitments. But it is the reports of increased arrests, harassment, and the revival of ZANU-PF torture camps – into which hundreds of MDC supporters disappeared without a trace last year – that may signal a return to the violence that crippled Zimbabwe for months last year. The reports also raise the question: Is Mugabe's party willing to use violence to hold onto power at all costs?
"It is not alarmist to say that a repeat of the violence we saw in the past year is possible again," says Ozias Tungwarara, a senior researcher with the Open Societies Institute in Johannesburg. "The ZANU-PF machinery of repression has not been dismantled. It is very clear that the more progress the Unity Government makes, the more threatened the ZANU-PF political elite will feel. Most of the elite are people who have not known any other life or experience outside of the framework of ransacking, patronage, and exploiting national resources."
Accusations of bad faith
Zimbabwe's Government of National Unity, composed of ZANU-PF and the two MDC formations, was formed in February 2009 after the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in September last year.
But the MDC has accused its partner of bad faith. The former ruling party for the past 29 years, which lost last year's elections, still orders the police to arrest MDC supporters on what MDC leaders call "trumped up charges." Notorious bases, which human rights groups say were used by ZANU-PF as torture chambers in the March 2008 elections, are being revived in what critics say is an attempt to reverse the little gains the inclusive government has made in the past seven months.
More than 200 killed
Over 200 MDC activists were murdered this past year.
Attorney General Johannes Tomana, a ZANU-PF member, has been accused of trying to whittle down MDC dominance in Parliament by arresting its MPs on trumped up charges. So far, more than five MDC legislators have been convicted of various offences and several others are facing charges ranging from abduction and rape to abuse of government's farm inputs program. Some, including Finance Minister Tendai Biti and Deputy Agriculture Minister Roy Bennett, are senior members of Parliament.