A crackdown in Zimbabwe exposes the instability of the Mnangagwa regim

The ruling elite is far from united

IN THE early hours of August 5th four men broke into a house in eastern Zimbabwe known to be home to activists for the MDC Alliance, the country’s main opposition bloc. They dragged the husband and wife outside before beating them with sticks on their back and buttocks. Two of the assailants took turns raping the wife; the other two raped the husband. All the while the children of the couple watched.

After holding peaceful elections on July 30th Zimbabwe has again descended into violence. At least six people were killed on the streets of the capital two days after the vote. Since then human-rights groups have recorded more than 150 alleged cases of abuse against opposition supporters (including that of the husband and wife above), most seemingly at the hands of soldiers. The true figure is almost certainly many times higher. Hundreds of MDC members have fled their homes, including Tendai Biti, one of the bloc’s senior figures, whose claim for asylum in Zambia was rejected on August 8th.

For some the violence is not just grim, but odd. Since taking power via a coup last November, President Emmerson Mnangagwa has sought to convince the world that Zimbabwe is “open for business” following nearly four decades of misrule by Robert Mugabe. The culmination of this plan was meant to be a convincing victory in the election, which even if neither free nor fair, would be orderly enough to win him the blessing of foreign governments. They would then encourage creditors to lend the country much-needed foreign currency. Instead there is mayhem. When not shooting civilians in the back, Zimbabwe’s ruling elite seems to be shooting itself in the foot.

Zanu-PF, the party of Mr Mnangagwa, has a history of thuggery. Mr Mugabe once boasted: “We have degrees in violence.” But the recent brutality is probably made worse by the fact that the ruling elite is far from united. Both Zanu-PF and the myriad security forces are fragmented. So while some factions may lose from chaos, others believe they will gain. So goes the macabre struggle for power and spoils.

In his election campaign Mr Mnangagwa tried to portray himself as an all-powerful leader. But his control over his own party remains fragile. The so-called G40 faction, associated with Grace Mugabe, Robert’s second wife, remains influential, well funded and keen for Mr Mnangagwa to fail. At the local level it has been hard for the president to exert authority. There were two dozen riots during the primary elections for Zanu-PF candidates. Some newly elected members of parliament, such as Webster Shamu, have repeatedly clashed with Mr Mnangagwa. Overall only about a quarter of new members are incumbents. No one knows how the newcomers will wield their power.

Neither is there unity between the armed forces and Zanu-PF, nor among the men in uniform themselves. The agitator-in-chief, according to several sources, is Constantino Chiwenga, the vice-president and minister of defence, who is rumoured to want one day to replace Mr Mnangagwa. The former commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) played a pivotal role in the coup last year, but has struggled to adapt to political life. (He tried to fire thousands of striking nurses before realising that was not possible.) It is he, rather than the current head of the ZDF, Philip Sibanda, who is believed to have instigated the crackdown on August 1st, out of frustration that others have been too soft on the MDC. Mr Chiwenga speculates that his critics are high on weed.

The president may be weaker than many assume, but he is not innocent. Mr Mnangagwa reportedly co-ordinated the post-election violence in 2008-09. It is implausible to claim, as his allies do, that he knows little of what is happening now.

The MDC is challenging the legality of Mr Mnangagwa’s first-round win in the presidential race on July 30th. But given the partisanship of Zimbabwe’s judges, defeat looks certain. Therefore Mr Mnangagwa will be sworn in again as president before the end of the month. He will do so amid growing mistrust among foreign governments and would-be investors. And with more blood on his hands.

This article appeared in the Middle East and Africa section of the print edition under the headline”Open for chaos”

Zimbabwe Detains Tendai Biti for ”inciting public violence;” Declaring “Unofficial Or Fake” Election Results,

Tendai Biti. (File: AFP)
Tendai Biti. (File: AFP)
Senior Zimbabwean opposition figure Tendai Biti was in police custody on Thursday after Zambia rejected his asylum bid and deported him, as fears grew about a government crackdown following Zimbabwe’s disputed election.

Biti was at Harare Central Police Station with his lawyers, said Roselyn Hanzi of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. Police spokesperson Charity Charamba said Biti faced charges of inciting public violence, which could bring up to a decade in prison, and declaring “unofficial or fake” election results, which has a maximum six-month sentence

Zambian border guards handed Biti to Zimbabwean authorities despite a Zambian court order saying he should not be deported until it could hear his appeal for asylum, Zambian lawyer Gilbert Phiri told The Associated Press.

“Zambian authorities acted in defiance of our courts, in defiance of regional and international law,” Phiri said. Zambia’s foreign minister said Biti’s reasons for seeking asylum “did not have merit.”

Biti’s plight has raised concerns about a wave of repression against the opposition by the government of Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who narrowly won last week’s election. It comes as the opposition prepares to launch a legal challenge to last week’s voting results, calling them fraudulent.

“This is a worrying development,” said David Coltart, a friend of Biti’s who is a fellow member of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and a human rights lawyer. “Tendai was arrested in 2008 on a similar charge and while he was in custody he was brutally tortured.”

The United Nations refugee agency said it was “gravely concerned” about the reports of Biti’s forced return to Zimbabwe, calling such returns a serious violation of international law. It urged Zambian authorities to urgently investigate.

A joint statement by the heads of missions in Zimbabwe of the European Union, the United States, Canada and Australia urgently called on Zimbabwean authorities to guarantee Biti’s safety and respect his rights. It also said the diplomats were “deeply disturbed” by the reports of Zimbabwean security forces targeting the opposition.

Biti, a former finance minister and newly elected member of parliament for the MDC, a day after the July 30 vote urged opposition supporters to defend their votes in the disputed ballot, saying that MDC candidate Nelson Chamisa had won the presidential race.

Authorities say it is against the law to declare the winner of an election before the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission announces the official results.

The day after Biti’s remarks, the military opened fire to disperse opposition protesters in the streets of Zimbabwe’s capital, killing six people. Western election observers, whose endorsement of a credible election is badly needed for the lifting of international sanctions on Zimbabwe, quickly condemned the “excessive” force.

While Mnangagwa has hailed a “flowering” of democracy in Zimbabwe since longtime leader Robert Mugabe stepped down in November under military pressure, alarm has been growing inside and outside the country.

The British embassy in Zimbabwe said on Thursday it had spoken with Zimbabwean and Zambian authorities overnight to seek “clear assurances” that Biti’s safety would be guaranteed. The United States’ top diplomat for Africa, Tibor Nagy, urged Zambian authorities to allow Biti to stay or allow him safe passage to a third country.

READ RELATED: Zambia hands over Tendai Biti to Zimbabwean police, defying court order: lawyer

READ RELATED: Zimbabwean opposition official Tendai Biti denied asylum, being deported

READ RELATED: Zimbabwe opposition official freed, lawyer says

The state-run Herald newspaper in an “editorial comment” said Biti “sneaked into Zambia in a bid to evade the law.”

It also urged Zambian authorities to respect Interpol and not the UN convention on refugees, which rejects the returning of asylum-seekers to the countries they have fled.

Under Mugabe’s 37 years in power, Zimbabwe was dogged by charges of rigged and fraudulent elections, along with violence against opposition figures.

Biti, one of the most outspoken critics of the government, was quick to warn that while the ouster of Mugabe was welcome, the military takeover that led to his resignation set a dangerous precedent for its involvement in civilian affairs.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” Biti said in June.

ZAMBIA: President Edgar Lungu’s Government Deny Tendai Biti Asylum In Direct Defiance Of Court Order

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 01, 2018 MDC Alliance Spokesperson Tendai Biti speaks during a press conference during which he announced that Zimbabwe's opposition parties are calling for electoral reforms ahead of the July 30 general elections and that there will be street demonstrations in the capital Harare on June 5. Senior Zimbabwean opposition figure Tendai Biti was arrested as he tried to flee to neighbouring Zambia to seek asylum, his lawyer said on August 8, 2018. Biti allegedly faces charges for inciting violence over the disputed result of last week's elections.  / AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANA
MDC Alliance Spokesperson Tendai Biti / AFP PHOTO / Jekesai NJIKIZANA

The opposition leader is now in the hands of Zimbabwean police, who have charged him with incitement.

Zambian authorities on Thursday deported top Zimbabwe opposition figure Tendai Biti in defiance of a court order after he tried to claim asylum, his lawyer said.

“They have defied the court order to allow him to seek asylum and as I am speaking to you right now he has been handed over to the Zimbabwean police,” lawyer Gilbert Phiri told AFP.

Biti, a veteran figure in the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), fled to Zambia on Wednesday, reportedly facing charges at home of inciting post-election violence.

Zambian authorities swiftly refused him asylum, but Phiri said Biti’s legal team had managed to challenge the decision, keeping him there.

But authorities have now ignored the ruling and deported him back to Zimbabwe, Phiri said.

“He is on the Zimbabwe side,” Phiri confirmed. “This is really embarrassing.”

chiwenga-angry_600x337
Tendai Biti was handed over back to Zimbabwean authorities by Zambia President Edgar Lungu’s government despite court order that sought the appellant to be ‘heard’

W3Zhira🇿🇼🇿🇼🇿🇼@ZishiriJ

1)Why are pple surprised that Tendai Biti is being send back to Zimbabwe?Zambia is governed by another heartless despot in Edgar Lungu. Like his friends in Zimbabwe, he has no wish to govern Zambia democratically, has no respect for human life, human rights.Why did Biti go there

“I am saddened obviously if that is the case. Zambia can certainly do better than that,” MDC lawyer Denford Halimani told AFP when asked about the deportation.

Zimbabwean authorities have yet to respond to requests for comment.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

David Coltart

@DavidColtart

Despite Zambian lawyer Gilbert Phiri obtaining an interdict against the Zambian Government preventing them from deporting Tendai Biti he has just messaged to say they are taking him to Kariba to deport him in defiance of the order. Respect the rule of law Zambia.

The MDC were defeated in last week’s historic first elections since Zimbabwe’s military ousted Robert Mugabe in November, ending 37 years of iron-fisted rule.

Mugabe’s successor President Emmerson Mnangagwa was declared the winner on Friday by a narrow margin — results the opposition have furiously contested, alleging fraud.

My Zimbabwe News@myzimbabwenews

Yesterday Zambia refused to grant MDC Alliance ace Tendai Biti an asylum. They then began deportation process. Biti hired lawyer Gilbert Phiri who appealed Gvt’s decision at High Court. A judge ruled in Biti’s favour this morning, but Zambia has just proceeded with deporting Biti

Biti, an internationally respected finance minister in Zimbabwe’s troubled 2009-2013 power-sharing government, had proclaimed victory for the opposition before the final results came in.

According to Zimbabwe’s state-run Chronicle newspaper, he is among nine suspects sought for inciting protests over alleged rigging which turned deadly.

The army opened fire on opposition protesters, killing six people and prompting an international outcry.

Mnangagwa, who is seeking to reverse Zimbabwe’s economic isolation and attract badly needed foreign investment, had vowed the elections would turn a page on Mugabe’s repressive 37-year rule.

‘Mammoth theft and fraud’

Mnangagwa won with 50.8 percent of the vote, a knife-edge 0.8 percent above the threshold to require a run-off against MDC candidate Nelson Chamisa who won 44.3 percent.

The MDC claim the ruling ZANU-PF party won through “mammoth theft and fraud” and have vowed to challenge the results in court.

“Those results represent a total negation of the will of the people,” MDC lawyer Thabani Mpofu told reporters in Harare on Wednesday, charging that the results “grossly mathematically fail to tally”.

Mpofu said the MDC would reveal “a secret weapon” in court, but analysts said the challenge was highly unlikely to overturn the declared results.

International monitors praised the conduct of the election itself on July 30, although EU observers said Mnangagwa benefited from an “un-level playing field” and a degree of voter intimidation.

As Biti returned to Zimbabwe, a hearing at Zambia’s High Court, where he was supposed to appear, will go ahead Thursday in his absence, Phiri said.

Zimbabwe and Zambia enjoy strong bilateral relations, with Mnangagwa visiting in January, two months after he took over from Mugabe as ZANU-PF leader.