Mass arrests of MDC activists in Matebeleland

The attacks on MDC supporters in Matabeleland North, which began with the visit by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai last week, have continued this week, with widespread arrests.

Morgan Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai

A dozen or more people have been taken into police custody, with many being denied their constitutional rights to be charged or released, or to have access to a lawyer. As well as being part of the general harsh crackdown on the MDC countrywide, the arrests in Mat North of district leaders are widely thought to have an additional link to the clashes between Tsvangirai and Mat North Police Commander (ProPol) Edmore Veterai, an overzealous Zanu (PF) supporter.

The recent events began on Thursday with the arrival of Tsvangirai.

The PM had fierce run-ins with the police. Several MDC district organisers were rounded up for hosting the MDC leader. On Saturday in Victoria Falls, at 4 am, the MDC reports that about 15 uniformed police officers conducted a dawn raid on the homes of Thembinkosi Sibindi, the Matabeleland North provincial organising secretary and the Hwange West district chairperson, Bernard Nyamambi armed with search warrants for subversive materials. Police reportedly turned the properties upside down.

Nyamambi said: “These are efforts to frustrate the party’s programmes in this province. As you have observed, for all our rallies to take place, we have had to approach the courts just to get approval.”

Earlier police had tried to stamp out all of Tsvangirai's rallies despite court orders okaying the rallies.

The Prime Minister's Office has said it was now clear to all Zimbabweans and the world at large that there was selective application of the rule of law in Zimbabwe. The ZRP is certainly not an impartial investigator. The police force is clearly under the manipulation of Zanu (PF) for political gain.

On Thursday, the MDC youth chairperson for Hwange West, Innocent Ndlovu was arrested by police in Victoria Falls on what the MDC claims were "frivolous charges" of public nuisance. He was supposed to go to court on Friday, but he was still held in police custody this week.

Tsvangirai's spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka said the PM will adress concerns about the appalling police conduct to President Mugabe.

"The Premier told the police to shun the culture of impunity and to respect people’s rights," Tamborinyoka said. "He said he would discuss the deplorable conduct by the police with the co-ministers of Home Affairs and the President."

All that has been done so far during Tsvangirai's visit, part of a government work program, is far from conforming with Zimbabwean law. The PM's Office said the police and their Zanu (PF) masters seem to have considerable difficulty in distinguishing between the application of the law and its abuse. There has been repeated abuse of the law on criminal procedure and the treatment of suspects.

In Lupane on Saturday police blocked Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's rally in open contempt of a court ruling overturning the ban The PM's Office said it was concerned with increasing intimidation, harassment and unjust arrests of MDC members in Mat North. Whereas those who have repeatedly attacked MDC members and destroyed MDC property in the last week have been left to roam the streets free to commit further crimes against the MDC, innocent MDC activists were being arrested, Tamborinyoka said.

A group of provocateurs used extreme violence to attack the MDC party headquarters in Harare last Thursday morning, leaving extensive damage to the premises.

The group that attacked the MDC HQ in central Harare used catapults and shouted slogans against the MDC. They destroyed windows with stones and tried to violently enter the building. The party reports that during the more than an hour-long assault, the police were not present.

The entire MDC leadership in Mat North is currently under attack and many of them have gone into hiding. They have not received any semblance of protection from what passes as our police force, the MDC said. The PM's Office has called on the police to do their job without fear or favour. Justice must not only be done, it must be seen to be done, Tamborinyoka said.

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