By Moses Matenga and Blessed Mhlanga
Opposition MDC Alliance vice-presidents, Tendai Biti and Lynnette Karenyi-Kore were arrested yesterday after trying to gain access to the party headquarters wrested by the Thokozani Khupe-led MDC-T in a Thursday night raid with the assistance of the military and police.
The two were arrested at the Morgan Richard Tsvangirai House (formerly Harvest House) together with other party officials, who included deputy secretary-general David Chimhini, secretary for international relations Gladys Hlatywayo, her deputy Lovemore Chinoputsa and Vongai Tome.
The arrests came minutes after youths aligned to the Nelson Chamisa-led party had tried to regain the party headquarters, but their attempts were thwarted by the police who had besieged the building.
Police arrested some of the youths for trying to force their way into their party offices.
Police spokesperson Paul Nyathi last night confirmed the arrests.
He said they were arrested for gathering in the central business district (CBD), against the lockdown measures, but did not mention anything about the over 20 youths, military and police who allegedly stormed the same premises to take it on behalf of Khupe.
“There was an influx of people in the CBD this afternoon (yesterday) in violation of statutory instrument related to COVID-19 with regards to health, security and safety of the public,” Nyathi said, adding: “We arrested them for violating the lockdown regulations.”
Biti and his team wanted to access their offices, arguing they were the rightful owners of the party headquarters.
The police, however, could have none of it, referring the party officials to their superiors.
After addressing the media, accusing President Emmerson Mnangagwa of working with MDC-T secretary-general Douglas Mwonzora and Khupe to destroy the MDC Alliance, Biti and his team started to sing revolutionary songs before police pounced on them.
Two senior police officers immediately ordered their troops to arrest all the MDC Alliance officials, including Biti, who remained calm, continuously asking why they were arresting them.
“We are the MDC Alliance led by advocate Nelson Chamisa, we have occupied this building since time immemorial. We acquired this building way back in 2002 before Mwonzora joined the party. Who is Mwonzora? Who is (Morgen) Komichi? Who is Khupe?” Biti queried.
“You can’t deny us access to that building. Please eject the imposters in there and allow us the rightful occupants and owners of that building to take ownership of our building.
“Surely, what country in the world interferes in the affairs of a private voluntary organisation and deploys the army at a time people are dying of COVID-19 and 95% of our people are unemployed.”
He added: “All you do, as Emmerson, is to try and destroy Chamisa and the people’s movement because Chamisa committed a crime of beating you in the 2018 elections. Shame on you Mnangagwa! Shame on you Zanu PF!”
An angry Chinoputsa was dragged by more than four policemen and bundled into the back of a truck, but not before he took time to accuse the police of pursuing Mnangagwa’s agenda of destroying the MDC Alliance through Khupe, Mwonzora and Komichi.
“Shame on you Emmerson, and all you who are being used by him, shame on you. This will end in a new Zimbabwe. This will all stop,” he said as he was being bundled into the police truck.
Armed soldiers on Thursday night assisted the Khupe-led MDC-T in taking over the Morgan Richard Tsvangirai House in what Mwonzora, in a memo, described as a “peaceful takeover”.
“The party wishes to advise that following the communication sent by the acting president Dr T Khupe to Advocate Nelson Chamisa, the latter has today through party officials allowed for a peaceful takeover of control of the Morgan Tsvangirai House,” the memo read in part.
However, MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzai Mahere said it was sinister that soldiers and police would interfere in the internal opposition squabbles.
“At approximately 10pm on June 4, 2020, a truckload of armed soldiers and police officers assisted 20 youths to forcibly gain entry into the MDC Alliance headquarters, Harvest House,” Mahere said.
“The soldiers severely assaulted our security personnel who were manning the building. The youths locked themselves in the building refusing to leave.”
MDC Alliance secretary-general Chalton Hwende, who attended the scene on Thursday night to make a police report over the takeover, was advised by the police to talk to the army.
“The use of armed forces to settle personal squabbles must be condemned in the strongest way possible by all pro-democracy forces,” Mahere said.
She said the party was currently in the process to take all necessary steps to reclaim the property.
Hwende said the “takeover” started at around 7pm on Thursday when a known official in the security department came under the pretext that he wanted to take some documents.
“When our security personnel opened for him, that is when more than 20 youths, some of them known to be soldiers, forced their way in and started assaulting our officials. The attacks went on for two hours until they were released,” he said.
“When this was happening, that is when an army truck arrived followed by a police truck. The soldiers parked directly opposite the entrance and police parked at the corner of Angwa Street and Nelson Mandela Avenue.
“They started beating our guys and only released them after two hours and that is when we knew of the takeover.”
Hwende said efforts to report the matter to the police were fruitless as they were ignored.
The United States has since condemned the takeover of the opposition headquarters, particularly the involvement of security apparatus by government.
“We are dismayed by the politicised use of security forces to take over the headquarters of an opposition party and arrest its members. A healthy democracy requires healthy opposition parties,” the US embassy said last night.
The European Union in Zimbabwe last night tweeted: “This week’s events in Zimbabwe show a lack of respect for rule of law, due process and constitutional rights: partisan deployment of security forces, arrests, disrespect of property rights, partial investigations, corruption & threats against journalists.”
EU ambassador to Zimbabwe, Timo Olkkonen, also tweeted: “Security forces involved in private property dispute.
Opposition harassed. Political party threatens journalist. Questions on investigative bias and impunity of human rights violations. Not a good week for Zimbabwe.”
It also emerged last night that Komichi approached the magistrate courts seeking an order barring MDC Alliance and Hwende from interfering with their continued occupation of Harvest House.
“The respondents and members of the second respondents (MDC Alliance) are interdicted from coming to applicant (MDC -T)’s premises,” read part of the order sought.
MDC T wants the court to empower the police to use any measure possible to stop Hwende and MDC Alliance from evicting them from Harvest House unless they have a valid court order. The application is despite the fact that the police was at the party headquarters barring alliance members from gaining access.
Mwonzora last night denied that his party was being aided by soldiers and the police, saying they only came after Hwende had brought a group of youths.
“That is hogwash. We are doing it on our own because our security did a smooth handover-takeover yesterday without any police or soldier available. The involvement of the police came when Hwende and his group came and tried to forcibly gain entry and then they clashed with police. We did not invite the police to go with us to Harvest House,” he said.
Chamisa yesterday fumed over the takeover, declaring Mnangagwa had drawn lines on the sand. NewsDay