Govt hammers MDC bigwigs

 Govt hammers MDC bigwigs
Published: 11 July 2019
JITTERY authorities are intensifying their crackdown against the main opposition MDC, with police arresting the party's youth leader Gift Siziba yesterday - barely 24 hours after its firebrand deputy chairperson, Job "Wiwa" Sikhala, had also been nabbed on charges of attempting to overthrow President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government.

The surprise crackdown comes as the United States of America is cranking up the pressure on Mnangagwa and his government to make a clear choice between implementing much-needed political and economic reforms and delaying the country's recovery.

Even more surprisingly, the clampdown comes as Mnangagwa has revived his re-engagement efforts with the West - with Harare dispatching Foreign Affairs minister Sibusiso Moyo to the United Kingdom this week, for a series of meetings on relations between the two countries.

Yesterday, police charged Siziba - the newly-elected MDC youth assembly secretary-general - with inciting public violence, following his address to party officials in Glen Norah, Harare, last weekend.

Siziba's lawyers told the Daily News last night that he was scheduled to appear at the Harare Magistrates' Court today.

His arrest came hardly 24 hours after Sikhala had been arrested for utterances at an MDC rally on Saturday, where he allegedly told supporters that the opposition would "remove" Mnangagwa from power before the 2023 elections.

"The war and the fight ... we're going to take to the doorstep of Emmerson Mnangagwa. We're going to overthrow him before 2023. That's not a joke.

"We're going to defeat Zanu-PF and we're going to be committed to make sure that we terminate Zanu-PF's rulership of this country before 2023," Sikhala is alleged to have said during his address in Bikita.

The tough-talking opposition kingpin is being represented by top lawyers Alec Muchadehama, Harrison Nkomo, Obey Shava, Jeremiah Bamu and Innocent Gonese. If convicted, he faces up to 20 years in prison.

In the meantime, MDC boss Nelson Chamisa has defended the outspoken legislator, whom he said did not deserve bad treatment from the government.

"It appears these legends are back to their antics and tomfoolery again. I don't understand why they want to persecute an innocent man.

"Why should they persecute Sikhala for speaking his mind," Chamisa said during a tour of a new facility in Hopley settlement in Harare - ahead of its official opening by Mnangagwa today.

On its part, the MDC has also condemned the arrests of its officials, which it claimed exposed Mnangagwa's government's "intolerance of dissenting voices".

"Sikhala and Siziba's detention expose the callous nature of Mnangagwa's administration which has been trying to hoodwink Zimbabweans and the international community that they are different from the oppressive regime of former president Robert Mugabe.

"The detention of the two MDC senior officials, and the recent clampdown on civil society activists and MPs have exposed this regime for what it really is.

"The brutal murder of innocent Zimbabweans on August 1, 2018 and in January 2019 have shown that Mnangagwa has never been a reformist, contrary to his posturing to the world," the party said in a hard-hitting statement.

While this was happening, scores of MDC supporters besieged the Harare Magistrates' Court yesterday, in solidarity with Sikhala - but were left stunned by the news that he would be transferred to Masvingo, before further learning that "he had disappeared" from the police station.

Although police had promised to bring him to court after lunchtime, the garrulous MP had not appeared in the courts by 3pm.

Gonese said he could not establish where Sikhala was taken to, amid suspicions that detectives from the notorious Law and Order section were "managing" his eventual appearance at the courts.

"I am in a state of shock and disbelief. As I speak, I have no idea where Sikhala is. I was with him at CID Law and Order as part of the lawyers representing him.

"There was a discussion between the lead counsel Muchadehama and others, and the arrangement was that he was going to be brought to Rotten Row this (yesterday) afternoon.

"We agreed that while the other lawyers would come to Rotten Row, I would remain with Sikhala at Harare Central Police station. What has happened amounts to abduction because it happened before my eyes," Gonese said.

He added that police had informed him that all documentation was ready and they were preparing to take Sikhala to court.

"I was stuck there for more than 20 minutes and … thereafter I proceeded here only to be surprised that Sikhala had not been brought to court.

"It's clear that as his lawyers we were sold a dummy and misled. This is a clear violation of his constitutional right to be legally represented," Gonese said.

However, government last night said Sikhala had been taken to Bikita where he allegedly committed the crime.

Political analysts said the arrests of the two MDC officials carried echoes of the behaviour of Mugabe's regime which routinely harassed pro-democracy and opposition groups during his time in power.

"It signals the resurgence of a crackdown and the legal persecution of human rights defenders and political parties. It also highlights the problematic nature of freedom of expression post the Mugabe era. There seems to be some concerted efforts to silence those trying to speak truth to power through rallies and other platforms.

"This also raises questions about the sincerity of the current regime to honour its promises about creating a Zimbabwe we want," Namibia-based scholar Admire Mare told the Daily News.

Analyst and freedom of expression lobbyist, Rashweat Mukundu, warned that there could be further arrests "down the road" as the government was now feeling pressure from the country's worsening economic situation.

"What we are witnessing is a continuation of the old regime and … by the end of Mnangagwa's term, we might have more politicians and pro-democracy activists in prison compared to Mugabe's era, considering the rate at which people are being arrested," Mukundu said.

Piers Pigou, a senior consultant with the International Crisis Group, said Mnangagwa and his government were sending contradictory messages which could come back to haunt them in future.

"It's the latest iteration of an on-going set of actions being taken against civil society and political opposition. When the opportunity arises to arrest people, they do so.

"My sense is that they have a very weak case and this really goes to the heart of their credibility as to whether the allegations that they have been making, which we knew were standard in the Mugabe regime, really have some basis.

"If not this could be really damaging for Mnangagwa and his administration," Pigou warned.
- dailynes
Tags: MDC,


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