via Sunday Times received by email: Miles Amoore and George Arbuthnott Published: 11 August 2013
ZIMBABWE’S intelligence service has drawn up arrest warrants for 100 leading opponents of Robert Mugabe as the country’s leader tightens his grip on power after an election victory last month that was widely condemned as rigged.
Tendai Biti, the former finance minister, and other leading anti-Mugabe figures are on the list, which is contained in classified intelligence documents seen by The Sunday Times.
The documents, dated August 3, show that Zimbabwean police are planning raids on the offices and homes of human rights advocates, politicians and journalists.
The intelligence service, the CIO, also plans to step up its surveillance of emails, telephone communications and social networking sites after having obtained intelligence that Mugabe’s opponents plan to hold protests on Wednesday in Harare, the capital.
The clampdown will increase pressure on the Movement for Democratic Change, the main opposition party. It is demoralised and divided over how to respond to the defeat of its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, by 33%-61% to Mugabe in the July 31 poll.
“A crackdown is something that is a strong reality,” said McDonald Lewanika, director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, a group of more than 350 civic society organisations. Lewanika’s name is among those on the arrest list.
“It’s worrying. I only hope the state will not want the political risk a crackdown of this magnitude entails,” he said.
Last Thursday Mugabe, 89, hailed his re-election, which will see him extend his 33-year stranglehold over the country, as a victory over the “British and their allies” whom he branded the “real enemies”.
This was despite a report by the electoral commission that 305,000 voters had been turned away from polling stations — and 207,000 had been “assisted” in casting their ballot.
The MDC has filed a legal challenge to have the result declared null and void and a new vote held within 60 days. It cites 15 grounds, including alleged bribery and manipulation of the electoral roll.
Yet the strategy, championed by Tsvangirai, has been attacked as futile by critics within his own party who say the courts are stacked with Mugabe loyalists.
“He [Tsvangirai] should only carry on if he acts more positively and is more proactive,” said Ian Kay, who lost his parliamentary seat at the elections.
“He should be calling for rallies and leading more visibly. The silence is disturbing.”
The discovery of the warrants has also prompted some figures to call on the party to form a government in exile.
“Very shortly you are going to see the arrest of MDC leaders and the imprisonment of MDC supporters around the country,” said Roy Bennett, the MDC’s treasurer, who has been in exile in South Africa since 2010.
“The MDC needs to get its leadership out of the country, form a government in exile and then take these guys head on with a full-blooded revolution.”
Bennett said he believed there was enough pro-MDC support within the military to overthrow the “small clique” of Mugabe loyalists who hold senior command positions in the army and police.
Other opposition figures, led by Tsvangirai, are less confident about the success of mass resistance.
“People are afraid of the security services,” said a senior adviser to the party.
“What I know for sure is that any mass action will be greeted with brutal force from the police. That’s the main reason why Tsvangirai’s not calling for protests.”
Memories of such state violence remain fresh in the minds of Zimbabweans. In 2008, after another disputed election, pro-Mugabe militia squads rampaged through the countryside murdering MDC supporters, raping women and looting properties.
In order to avert further bloodshed, Tsvangirai then withdrew from the presidential run-off even though he had won the first round of voting. He later became prime minister in a government of national unity under Mugabe.
Tsvangirai’s response to election defeat has prompted some within the MDC to challenge not just his tactics but also his position, with calls for him to be replaced by Biti, who served as finance minister in the unity government.
“Biti projects an aura of fear in the party. He is tough,” said one MDC source. “If he can see a strategic proactive route that he believes will achieve worthwhile goals, he will take it.”
Tsvangirai loyalists counter that Biti is politically immature, brash and too technocratic to be able to rally enough support to take on Mugabe.
As the two MDC camps appear increasingly polarised and fears of a security crackdown mount, civic society leaders have stepped in to plug the vacuum with plans for this week’s protests — whatever the consequences.
“If people want to punish me it comes with the territory,” said Lewanika.
“I would get worried only if I start hearing about guns pointed at my head.”