Morgan Tsvangirai, founding president of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change, says President Robert Mugabe has launched a new phase in the suppression of opposition voices. Peta Thornycroft spoke with Tsvangirai at his home, where he is recuperating from injuries sustained while in police custody a week ago.
MDC leader Tsvangirai told VOA that with the weekend assault with an iron bar on an opposition leader Nelson Chimasa at the airport, in full view of the public, President Robert Mugabe has taken the oppression of his people to a new level.
"I suspect any dictatorship raises the threshold, and I think this is a new phase, where instead of random beatings at police stations," Tsvangirai said, "he is now using hit squads, unidentified men unidentified vehicles, so but we know these are units of state agents, that have been given this assignment."
Chimasa, who was at the airport to fly with ruling Zanu-PF colleagues to a multi-party forum at the European Union, heard Monday that he would not lose an eye as a consequence of the assault.
Eight days following his beating at the Machipisa Police Station, Tsvangirai's face is still swollen, and he is still stiff and sore, but he seemed relaxed and comfortable sitting beneath a shady tree in back garden of his Harare home.
Tsvangirai says that Security Minister Didymus Mutasa must take responsibility for the execution of the assaults. But, he said, it is done at the instigation of President Mugabe.
"I can assess who is in charge of this, it is coming directly coming from Mugabe, Mugabe is a violent man and he does not hide it, especially where his power is threatened," he said. "No excuses, no regrets, the defiance epitomizes his attitude."
Tsvangirai's suggests that there is, for the first time, real dissent in the ranks of Zanu-PF and that many do not support the recent violence unleashed on himself and his colleagues.
"I think what is now happening is that if I were Zanu-PF I would start saying this is the end, or this is the beginning of the end, we cannot deteriorate to this level of international isolation, international condemnation at this level, not even our friends will support us, you know not even our sympathizers will justify this level of barbarity," he said. "So a lot of them are having very serious self reflection about their future."
He said there is a difference between professional policemen, and members of Mugabe's youth militia, who had personalized their hatred of him and the broad opposition.
He said when he was lying wounded in a police station, five members of the Central Intelligence Organization came to question him. He said they accused him of organizing attacks against the police, which he told them had never been on the MDC's agenda.
In a subsequent telephone interview, Security Minister Mutasa rejected Tsvangirai's allegations, saying they are "a flat lie". Mutasa laid the blame for last's weeks events squarely at the door of Tsvangarai and his party, saying he held a political rally in defiance of a government order. Mutasa said "Tsvangirai does not know the difference between truth and lies."
Meanwhile, the other faction of the MDC is preparing to go to court for an urgent application for the release of their president, Arthur Mutambara, who was arrested Saturday at Harare International Airport when he tried to board a plane for Johannesburg.
Two other prominent opposition activists severely beaten in police custody, Grace Kwinjeh and elderly Sekai Holland, were taken to the airport on stretchers, but were not allowed to board their private aircraft, had their passports confiscated, and were sent under police escort back to the hospital.