Friends at referendum, enemies after

HARARE - Even before the ink had dried on ballots cast in the constitutional referendum held on Saturday, the camaraderie between Zimbabwe’s shaky “unity” government parties was already crumbling.

The unity of purpose demonstrated in the constitution-writing process between President Robert Mugabe and his bitter political rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is wearing thin with the latter  under renewed siege from the police.

Many say the police, led by Augustine Chihuri, are partisan, while the police boss has repeatedly stated his allegiance to Mugabe’s Zanu PF party.

As referendum votes were being counted, police were swooping on Tsvangirai’s office to seize computers, flash discs and arresting four staffers.

Such police crackdown is nothing new — only that since January it has been confined to civil society groups, while Tsvangirai’s MDC enjoyed a short-lived honeymoon ahead of a “common purpose” referendum.

There was renewed hope that the referendum would cement peace messages preached by Mugabe and Tsvangirai, but it is turning into a familiar script.

Now that the process is done, it is back to business for Mugabe and State agents.

Analysts say the raid on Tsvangirai’s office and the arrest of his staffers only serves as a curtain raiser as the country hurtles towards watershed elections likely to be the hardest fought since independence from Britain in 1980.

Some are questioning the impartiality of the police, which acts with lightning speed to arrest MDC activists, but seems reluctant to act on Zanu PF perpetrators.

Innocent Chofamba Sithole, a journalist and political analyst based in the United Kingdom said such conduct by police left many Zimbabweans feeling resigned that law enforcement agents are part of the problem due to selective application of the law.

“I find it difficult to see why anyone who is not a member of Zanu PF or sympathetic to that party can have any confidence in the capacity of the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) to be impartial in its enforcement of the law in cases involving non-Zanu PF people of political significance,” said Chofamba Sithole.

Elections are coming as early as July and many say it is war again as arrests, intimidation and violence take root.

Jameson Timba, a minister of State in Tsvangirai’s office, said he expected worse to come in the next weeks.

“The gloves are off,” he said, adding Zimbabweans were weary of instability.

“Zimbabweans are tired of violence, intimidation and harassment as well as the looting of their resources by the elite under the guise of fake empowerment transactions,” said Timba referring to the controversial empowerment programme.

“Zimbabweans want peace, jobs, up-liftment and investment to develop an inclusive economy for the benefit of all,” he said.

Analysts such as Pedzisai Ruhanya of Zimbabwe Democracy Institute say regional grouping Sadc, which helped negotiate Harare’s power-sharing deal, will have to perform a Houdini act if the dream of a credible, free and fair election is to be realised in Zimbabwe. - Fungi Kwaramba and Richard Chidza

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