from MARCUS MUSHONGA and DANAI MWARUMBA in Harare, Zimbabwe
HARARE – A CRACKDOWN on the opposition and the subsequent international outcry have blemished the upcoming inauguration of Zimbabwe’s president-elect, Emmerson Mnangagwa, on Sunday.
Elected following a poll whose result the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance has rejected as rigged, tensions in the southern African country have heightened with the arrest of Tendai Biti, the former finance minister who is a key figure of the main opposition MDC-Alliance.
Biti’s deportation from Zambia on Thursday, where he was reportedly seeking asylum on the back of a crackdown against the opposition, and his arrest coincided with regional leaders confirming their attendance of the inauguration of Mnangagwa set for the capital Harare.
The crackdown on the MDC Alliance, spearheaded by the army and unknown gunmen, according to human rights groups, is putting to test the pledge by Mnangwagwa of a “new Zimbabwe for all.”
Upon the confirmation of his election, Mnangagwa pledged to build a united country, spurred by a commitment to settle differences between political rivals peacefully and within the confines of the law.
“This land is home to all of us, and we will sink or swim together,” Mnangagwa assured.
However critics accused the incoming president of violating his own pledge.
“The treatment of Tendai Biti is terrible and oppressive,” stated British Labour politician, Peter Hain.
“With army killings last week and police forced dispersal of journalists at MDC press conference Mnangagwa is not fulfilling his promise of new Zimbabwe era,” Hain added.
Eliot Engel, the United States congressman, who is a member of the house on foreign affairs, on Wednesday, accused the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) government of criminalising opposition.
The deportation of Biti from Zambia has also irritated the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which raised concern.
“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is gravely concerned about reports of the forced return of a Zimbabwean asylum-seeker by Zambia to his country of origin,” the agency stated.
Refoulement or forcibly returning refugees and asylum-seekers to their country of origin is a serious violation of international refugee law, the UN agency said.
“UNHCR calls on Zambia to investigate this reported incident urgently,” the UNHCR statement read.
The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) confirmed Biti was detained at the Harare Central Police upon his deportation from Zambia.
“A team of ZLHR lawyers is currently representing Biti. ZLHR will keep sharing updates regarding Biti’s situation,” a spokesperson said.
Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) spokeswoman, Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba, confirmed Biti was being charged for “for contravening Section 36 of the Criminal Law Codification and Reform Act (Chapter 9:23), public violence and also contravening Section 66 (A)(1) of the Electoral Act (Chapter 2:13), unofficial or false declaration of results.”
Biti last week declared MDC-Alliance’s Nelson Chamisa as the winner of the presidential poll.
It is alleged this led to the protests that left six people dead as the military opened live fire in Harare.
Chamisa deplored state security for alleged political victimisation.
“The persecution of leaders Tendai Biti, Morgan Komichi, Happymore Chidziva and other party officials by the state is unjustified and unacceptable,” Chamisa said.
He disclosed he had raised the matter with South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who is chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Ramaphosa is meanwhile among regional leaders who have confirmed attendance at the inauguration.
Khusela Diko, presidential spokesperson, confirmed Ramaphosa’s attendance.
Botswana, a longtime rival of Zimbabwe under the administration of Robert Mugabe, confirmed President Mokgweetsi Masisi will also attend.
George Charamba, Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, could not answer his phone while reached for comment on other attendees from the continent.
– CAJ News