Zimbabwe’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says the latest arrests of its leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and secretary general Tendai Biti are a strategy by President Robert Mugabe to ensure that the opposition’s focus is diverted from the upcoming run-off election to legal matters.
Biti was arrested at Harare airport Thursday upon returning from South Africa. Police say he would be charged with treason. MDC President Tsvangirai was stopped twice at a roadblock while campaigning in the south of the country and held at a police station. It was not clear at nightfall Thursday whether Mr. Tsvangirai had been released.
Eliphas Mukonoweshuro is MDC secretary for international affairs. From Harare, he told VOA the Mugabe government was doing everything to prevent the MDC from campaigning for the run-off election.
“Mr. Biti is being charged with treason. That’s the latest we have got. He probably will be brought to court tomorrow morning, we don’t know. And Mr. Tsvangirai’s bus has been released; we don’t know when next he’s going to be arrested. But there seems to be a determined effort to ensure that his bus progression does not succeed,” he said.
Mukonoweshuro said Zimbabwe police give no reason why Tsvangirai’s campaign bus was stopped twice and Tsvangirai detained.
“The government is not saying anything that is comprehensible. So we must conclude that it is because they don’t want him to campaign,” Mukonoweshuro said.
He dismissed any suggestion that Biti should not have returned to Zimbabwe from South Africa since the Mugabe had been saying that he could be arrested upon his return.
“Mr. Biti’s position is that he has not committed any crime in this country, and therefore he has got every right to return to this country. And I don’t believe that this case is going to go on for long because the treason charges that have been preferred against Mr. Biti everybody knows will not stick in court,” he said.
Mukonoweshuro said the MDC does not understand why Mr. Biti was arrested and threatened with treason when in fact the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and even the ruling ZANU-PF have all said that the MDC won the first round vote.
“We don’t see any reason why Mr. Biti should be the culprit when government representatives themselves have made similar pronouncement. What we are now convinced about is that this is just a strategy by the ruling party to ensure that the leadership’s attention is diverted away from the issues of the run-off to issues of fighting legal battles. And I don’t believe that august well for the run-off,” Mukonoweshuro said.
He criticized those who have argued that the MDC should not have agreed to participate in the run-off knowing that its leaders and supporters would be intimidated by the ruling ZANU-PF.
“What disturbs the MDC very much is that the MDC is being labeled as the culprit in an election which it won, and the election laws of this country are quite clear that if there is no clear winner as announced by ZEC, which is the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission that there ought to be a run-off. I don’t see why the MDC is being blamed for taking part in the run-off which is mandated by the relevant legislation governing elections in this country,” Mukonoweshuro said.