Tsvangirai takes fight to Mugabe

HARARE - Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai will tomorrow confront President Robert Mugabe over the arrest of his office staff, amid reports that the MDC leader is furious that security authorities have intensified a crackdown to intimidate people ahead of elections.

Jameson Timba, the minister of State in the PM’s office, confirmed to the Daily News on Sunday that Tsvangirai will tomorrow demand answers from Mugabe about the arrests when they meet at their usual Monday afternoon meeting.

Mugabe, a Catholic, returned home on Thursday from Rome, where he attended the inaugural mass of Pope Francis after jetting to the Vatican City last Sunday.

The two Principals have not met since Mugabe’s return, and tomorrow’s meeting is expected to centre on the crackdown by the police which started just as Mugabe left for Rome.

“As you aware the prime minister met the then acting President Joice Mujuru, to raise his deep concerns about the attack on his office and the unfortunate arrest of respected and competent human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa,” Timba told the Daily News on Sunday.

“The PM will definitely be following up on this matter with the president.”

Over the past week, six staff members from Tsvangirai’s office were arrested in what is being seen as a campaign of intimidation ahead of elections.

The last to be picked were two caretakers last Thursday who were arrested and released after submitting statements, according to the premier’s office.

Police say they never picked them up.

The caretakers’ seizure followed the arrest of four other staff members, Thabani Mpofu, Felix Matsinde, Mehluli Tshuma and former Harare City councillor Warship Dumba. The four have been charged with possessing articles for criminal use, impersonating the police and contravening the Official Secrets Act.

They were arrested last Sunday together with Mtetwa. The award-winning rights lawyer is charged with obstructing the course of justice and has been remanded in judicial custody to April 3 after a Harare magistrate denied her bail.

She has since filed an appeal against that ruling in the High Court, and the matter has been set down for a hearing tomorrow.

Timba said the issue of the arrests was exacerbated by the fact that the country was just coming out of a “positive historic vote for a new democratic constitution”.

Zimbabwe passed a new constitution by over 90 percent vote in a largely peaceful referendum on March 16 hailed by both foreign and local observers.

 “We believe that recent incidents poison the electoral environment, at the same time we also believe such incidents strengthen and galvanise the resolve of the people of Zimbabwe to complete the change, whose seeds were sown in 1997 with the launch of the National Constitutional Assembly and germinated in 1999 with the birth of MDC, ripening on March 16, 2013 referendum and harvesting after elections,” Timba told the Daily News on Sunday.

The MDC international relations secretary also said the new constitution was a key signpost demanded by the MDC during negotiations to form the inclusive government back in 2008 and was triumph for the MDC.

“The PM has succeeded in persuading Zanu PF and its members to vote with the majority of Zimbabweans for a new democratic constitution to replace the one bequeathed to us by the Queen of England, which Zanu PF wanted to cling to,” Timba said, adding: “It’s a major milestone for MDC.”

The recent crackdown on the PM’s staff has set an ominous tone for human rights and political freedoms in Zimbabwe as the country hurtles towards watershed elections that Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba said are due by June 29.

“The PM is committed to double his effort in creating an environment for a free and fair election by engaging local political leaders and institutions like Sadc and AU, who are the guarantors of the Global Political Agreement,” he said.

“The recent developments in the country are an affront to culture of peace and tolerance that both the PM and president have been preaching. We need to dismantle the infrastructure of violence, harassment and intimidation and replace the same with structures of peace, tolerance and democracy.”

In his report to the Sadc Troika on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation held in Pretoria on March 9, President Jacob Zuma, the Sadc appointed mediator to the Zimbabwe political crisis said “security sector realignment” will have to be done before the election, a condition vigorously resisted by Mugabe’s Zanu PF.

“Security sector realignment cannot be postponed any longer,” Zuma said in his report to the Troika.

 Tsvangirai on Wednesday reported the onslaught against his office to the Sadc facilitation team which was in Harare last week, according to Luke Tamborinyoka, the prime minister’s spokesperson.

Tsvangirai informed Zuma’s team of “the deteriorating situation as we begin preparations for elections,” said Tamborinyoka. - Tendai Kamhungira

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