Zimbabwe police arrest, then release, top leaders
Police arrested Zimbabwe's Minister of Industry and Commerce Welshman Ncube and at least 20 other senior members of the smallest of the three parties within the ruling coalition Sunday. They were released hours later.
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Designated agriculture minister Roy Bennett, for instance, was charged with terrorism on Feb. 13, 2009 – the day coalition government ministers were sworn in – and later released to flee into exile in South Africa. A year later, a senior member of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party called for the arrest of Finance Minister Tendai Biti (an MDC leader) for calling for an audit of funds from Zimbabwe’s lucrative diamonds trade, which rests largely in the hands of ZANU-PF stalwarts.Skip to next paragraph
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Will Zimbabwe's neighbors intervene?
The shakiness of Zimbabwe’s government has prompted Zimbabwe’s neighbors within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to intervene and mediate, most recently to persuade Mugabe to put off planned presidential elections until 2012.
A sustained arrest of a senior coalition member would have almost certainly caused SADC to take notice once more, and perhaps to put pressure on Mugabe to release Ncube and other MDC-N members in the interest of political stability. There are anywhere from 1.5 million to 3 million Zimbabweans living in South Africa because of the political instability and economic hardships in Zimbabwe.
While Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party has controlled Zimbabwe since 1980, Mugabe’s own personal control over the party has been under question for several years now. He has yet to name a political heir to lead the party after him, and there are reports of severe rivalries between commanders of the army and the intelligence services to succeed Mugabe.
Mugabe's grip on power
Yet the greatest shock to Mugabe’s grip on power was the March 2008 elections, in which control of the country’s Parliament shifted to the two factions of the MDC.
Mugabe refused to step down from the presidency or to allow independent recounts of the presidential vote, but eventually he accepted an SADC brokered compromise for his ZANU-PF party to share power with MDC.
While many Zimbabweans initially saw Mugabe as a hero for forcing the racist white-minority Rhodesian government of Ian Smith to hand over power in 1980, Mugabe maintained many of the strict rules of political control imposed by the Rhodesian government.
Mr. Smith’s hated Law and Order Maintenance Act was maintained on the books after ZANU-PF came to power and was actually strengthened to become the Public Order and Security Act, under which Ncube and other MDC leaders have been arrested.