By Gift Phiri and Richard Chidza
HARARE – Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is set to confront President Robert Mugabe over the military’s use of intimidation and violence to block MDC activities.
Clashes involving soldiers in Mugabe’s home province at the weekend have raised alarm that the military has once again, taken over Zanu PF’s election campaign like what happened in 2008.
Tsvangirai’s party had warned before the weekend clashes that Zanu PF’s decision to dissolve grassroots district coordinating committee structures meant the party was planning on relying on military and youth militia structures that are yet to be reformed since the 2008 mayhem.
MDC secretary-general and Finance minister in the fragile coalition government, Tendai Biti told the Daily News yesterday that Tsvangirai will take up the matter with Mugabe.
He warned that failure by Mugabe to rein in the military could result in bloodshed and could plunge the country into internal strife characteristic of countries such as Somalia.
Biti was speaking following the violent weekend clashes when soldiers tried to stop MDC rallies in Mashonaland East and Mashonaland West provinces.
Mashonaland West is Mugabe’s home province.
At Darwendale Stadium in Mashonaland West, the MDC reported soldiers ran amok tearing posters, bringing down tents and threatening party officials who were preparing for the rally, before Zanu PF activists burnt grass around the area where the MDC was holding its rally.
Earlier last Friday, soldiers from the nearby Jock Camp had gone round the village telling people not to attend the MDC rally scheduled for Saturday at Masvimbo Business Centre in Mutoko East, Ward 17, Mashonaland East Province.
Biti yesterday said the clashes between MDC supporters and the military had increased in recent weeks in the country’s volatile provinces.
Biti said apart from Tsvangirai approaching Mugabe, the MDC party would take the matter to the coalition government watchdog, the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (Jomic), to alert the body that Zimbabwe was entering the “militarisation” stage.
“We will write to Jomic, we will show them photographs,” Biti told the Daily News. The most insulting thing is that the victims were arrested for holding a meeting in the bush. It is totally unacceptable. Our principal is going to bring the matter to the Zanu PF principal.”
The weekend clashes give credence to MDC allegations that there was an on-going rural purge by the military, a point of contention in the Sadc election roadmap for Zimbabwe.
The two MDC parties’ position in the roadmap is that soldiers and other security personnel unlawfully deployed should thus be sent back to the barracks. Zanu PF, on the other hand, denies that there are serving members of the military doing political work and protests to the use of the word “demilitarisation”.
Yesterday, Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo denied that his party had anything to do with the attempts to proscribe MDC activities in Mashonaland East and West provinces.
“I was out of town but from the brief I have had, our structures in either Mashonaland West or East were not involved with what the army did to the MDC,” Gumbo told the Daily News.
“As a party, we have capacity to mobilise support for our programmes. We do not need the army to do that,” said Gumbo.
Asked about earlier claims by administration secretary Didymus Mutasa that the military had every right to support Zanu PF because they fought under the party’s armed wing Zanla in the 70s independence war that led to Zimbabwe independence from Britain in 1980, Gumbo said;
“Those who have said we are happy with the army meddling in our party activities do not know what they are talking about. The army has a clearly defined role in our constitution that is to defend the interests of the country.”
“I should say though that we do not have a problem with former army officers joining our ranks or those of the MDC it is a practice across the world even in the US and Zimbabwe is not an exception,” said Gumbo.
The MDC reiterated that soldiers should be confined to the barracks should be professional and above all, apolitical. “These institutions should be known for protecting this country’s citizens regardless of political affiliation, religion or background,” the party said in a statement to the Daily News.
“The MDC calls upon all soldiers who pledged their allegiance to the nation, to stand for what they believe in and fight for their rights rather than to be abused by a few archaic individuals blinkered by the sunset party, Zanu PF.”
The party said the weekend disturbances reinforce calls for security sector reforms outlined in the election roadmap. There is a deadlock over security sector reforms. Biti said now more than ever before, Zimbabwe needed security sector reforms to avert another sham poll.
The envisaged reforms include directing the security forces to issue a public statement that they will “unequivocally uphold the Constitution and respect the rule of law in the lead-up to and following any election or referendum.”
Zanu PF sharply differs with this position and says this was not an election matter and that political parties have no right to direct uniformed forces to issue political statements.
More importantly, there are sharp disagreements on the regulations of the intelligence, housed in President Robert Mugabe’s office. The MDC formations allege the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) had become partisan and was taking sides with Mugabe.
They want an Act of Parliament to regulate the operations of the CIO.
Welshman Ncube’s MDC says: “This is an election issue as referred to and covered under Article XIII (i) of the GPA which reads as follows ‘state organs and institutions do not belong to any political party and should be impartial in their duties’”. Daily News
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