With the latest government crackdown on opposition leaders in Zimbabwe, it?s unclear what the long term consequences might be. Will it weaken the government?s hand or strengthen the opposition?

Among those following developments in Zimbabwe is Chris Moroleng, a researcher with the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa. From Pretoria, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the government crackdown on the opposition.

?I think the most startling aspect of this current crackdown is the fact that it?s been so violent and targeted at the top leadership of both the opposition MDC (party) and members of civil society. And the extreme use of violence I suppose is a clear indication of the paranoia and the fear that is present in the minds and the hearts of the regime in Zimbabwe,? he says.

An editorial in the US newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, says this about opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai: he stands a chance of becoming for Zimbabwe what nelson Mandela was for South Africa ? especially if his country?s ruling regime persists in its self-destructive attempts to crush him.?

Asked whether he agrees with that assessment, Moroleng says, ?Well, yes and no. In the first instance I would say that Morgan Tsvangirai has been a very brave man to stand up to the autocratic regime represented here by ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe. And in this instance I would also argue that there have been deficiencies in the MDC in the sense that Morgan Tsvangirai at certain times has acted in a very autocratic manner; and has really assisted to split the opposition, which is currently in two factions. However, I think that the mistake that the government in Zimbabwe is doing right now is to highlight the situation by cracking down on the opposition. It?s also increasing the profile of the president of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, by carrying out such a brutal attack on him and others.?

Moroleng says the government could unwittingly be creating ?a martyr? in Tsvangirai, which could help unite the opposition that is currently ?very fragmented.?

The analyst says that President Mugabe probably views the opposition as weak and feels no pressure to step down. ?But also more importantly,? says Moroleng, ?is that President Robert Mugabe in my opinion seems to be motivated by the maintenance and continued dominance of the political space in Zimbabwe. He?s a man of absolute power.?

Nevertheless, Moroleng says there is a solution to Zimbabwe?s political crisis. ?I believe it?s within ZANU-PF itself. I think the greatest opportunity at this stage for change in Zimbabwe comes from within this party. And indeed it would come from change agents?who would begin a reconstitution of this regime towards one that is more open democracy. One that will prepare for free and fair elections?.as sentiment in his party is increasingly growing, that he is the greatest liability to their continued dominance of the political space in Zimbabwe,? he says.  (English to Africa  3/14)