HARARE – Two caretakers at Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Harare office were yesterday arrested and released after submitting statements, the Prime Minister’s office claimed yesterday.
However, national police spokesperson Charity Charamba yesterday distanced police from the mid-morning raid and subsequent “arrest” as tensions in the inclusive government continue to mount.
Caretakers Spiwe Vera and Elizabeth Banda were picked up from the PM’s Bath Road communications office in Avondale, Harare as the PM claimed police were intensifying raids on his office, staff and a series of high-profile human rights and pro-democracy organisations.
Charamba insisted the two caretakers were not picked up by police.
“That’s false,” the police spokesperson told the Daily News. “I have confirmed with people from CID (Criminal Investigations Department), they never picked anyone.”
But Tarisai Mutayi, the lawyer for Vera and Banda told the Daily News late yesterday that his clients had indeed been picked up by police and were taken to Harare Central Police Station where talks were underway to release them into his custody.
“They were picked up by the police, we are making enquiries now at the (Harare) Central (Police Station),” Mutayi said.
“We are negotiating for their release into my custody. There is no charge, nothing.”
The PM’s office said yesterday’s “arrests” bring to six the number of staff members from Tsvangirai’s office arrested inside five days.
The other four staff members, Thabani Mpofu, Felix Matsinde, Mehluli Tshuma and Anna Muzvidziwa were arrested on Sunday together with leading human rights lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa and former Harare City councillor Warship Dumba.
They have all been remanded in custody to April 3, although they appealed yesterday against that ruling in the High Court.
The crackdown has set an ominous tone for human rights and political freedoms in Zimbabwe — two of the main goals of an inclusive government formed by arch-rivals President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai after disputed elections in 2008.
Luke Tamborinyoka, the PM’s spokesperson, said the caretakers had been arrested.
“The police arrested them and took statements before releasing them at the end of the day.”
Tamborinyoka said the onslaught on the PM’s office was unacceptable.
“The Prime Minister takes this attack on his office as an affront to democracy and to the rule of law. It is an attack not only on the members of staff but also on the institution of the Office of the Prime Minister.
“However, the Prime Minister is aware that these are unnecessary distractions that will dismally fail to divert our attention from the democratic agenda of delivering a new Zimbabwe.”
Tamborinyoka said Tsvangirai had appraised the Sadc facilitation team on Wednesday night “of the deteriorating situation as we begin preparations for the elections.”
Tsvangirai also protested the raids on Monday to then acting President Joice Mujuru, who promised to find out from police chief Augustine Chihuri the motive for the raids.
Yesterday, Chihuri told a pass-out parade at the Morris Depot of 325 officers that the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) “does not carry out investigations through the media or to please a particular constituency but we do so in line with the laws of the country.”
“I therefore call upon the nation especially some misguided elements in our midst to allow the ZRP to carry out its constitutional obligations,” Chihuri said.
“As an organisation, we are fully cognisant and perturbed by mischievous attempts by some sections of our society who deliberately discredit our reputation.”
In his report to the Sadc Troika on politics, defence and security cooperation held in Pretoria on March 9, President Jacob Zuma — the bloc’s point man in the Zimbabwe dialogue — insisted on security sector reforms.
“Security sector realignment cannot be postponed any longer,” Zuma said in his report to the Troika.
“In this regard, Jomic (Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee) need to be activated as a matter of priority. The facilitation team supplemented by the representatives of Tanzania and Zambia must be enabled to participate actively in Jomic.”
From Zuma’s statement, the regional body is taking seriously many of the concerns tabled by Tsvangirai in a damning dossier at the meeting of the security organ of the Sadc that the regional bloc persuades Mugabe’s Zanu PF to stop violence, arbitrary arrests and proscription of public meetings that are sulling the run-up to the poll.
But Zanu PF negotiators told the Troika “enquiries about the media reports of incidences of violence, intimidation and detentions of members of civil society, the Zanu PF negotiators indicated that they only read about these things in the papers, save to deal with NGOs that act outside the law,” according to Zuma’s report.
Bodies like the Sadc organ on politics, defence and security, only tend to get involved when internal conflicts threaten to spill over borders, and become international problems.
“It is extremely urgent that all matters agreed upon in terms of the GPA are implemented speedily so that adequate preparations are made for a level playing field for the forthcoming elections,” Zuma said.
Meanwhile, a crackdown on pro-democracy groups that started in December is lulling as focus turns on the PM’s Office ahead of elections. Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) had complained of systematic targeting by State security forces of NGOs working in areas of democracy, human rights and good governance, inhibiting development work and activism during a period many Zimbabweans hoped would be marked by greater freedoms.
Police have also been seizing short-wave radios which they claim were smuggled into the country by NGOs who are allegedly taking them into rural areas, in what they claim is a campaign being funded by hostile Western governments who police claim want to oust Mugabe.
Tsvangirai says he has brought up these cases at National Security Council meetings with security commanders and Mugabe and agreed to come up with a “Code of Conduct” for the security forces. – Gift Phiri, Political Editor