Regime change a possibility in Zimbabwe as opposition maintains momentum

By staff writers
13 Mar 2007
Archbishop Pius Ncube

The prospect of a nonviolent uprising against Robert Mugabe appears to be increasing by the day in Zimbabwe, fulfilling a call made two years ago, by a Catholic Archbishop.

Following in a tradition of nonviolent resistance which has brought about regime change in such as places as the Philippines, South Africa and Serbia, Archbishop Pius Ncube had said he hoped people would become so disillusioned that they would organise against the government and "kick Mugabe out by a non-violent, popular, mass uprising."

The hopes now seem much closer to reality, after the brutality of the regime was made apparent in pictures of Zimbabwe's main opposition leader, his right eye swollen shut and his head partly shaved to reveal crudely stitched gashes, were broadcast around the world.

Morgan Tsvangirai and other bruised and bloodied activists who were arrested at a prayer meeting on Sunday.

Zimbabwean police also arrested 240 more pro-democracy supporters on Monday as they protesed the killing of an opposition party member and the crackdown on civil rights groups and political parties.

More than 140 opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) supporters were arrested in the eastern city of Mutare, about 300km from the capital, Harare, on Monday as pressure mounted on government to create more democratic space and release those arrested.

Police arrested 110 opposition supporters in Harare, in a continued crackdown on dissent over the arrests on Sunday. In spite of the arrests, the MDC said the month-old "defiance campaign", launched by a coalition of civil society groups and political parties, would continue.

Mugabe is 83 and can no longer count on the unanimous support of the security forces. His own party is divided and even long term allies are manoeuvring for succession, and the increasing violence against protesters is being seen as evidence of panic at the top of the regime.

"We just hope that Zimbabweans are resilient enough to continue; certainly, the leadership is there," said Welshman Ncube, secretary-general of one of the MDC factions. "Zimbabweans are tired of hunger, poverty and malnutrition. They are also angry and determined, which we hope will overcome their fear [of arrest and detention]."

Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, the leaders of the two MDC factions, and several other party and NGO officials were arrested on Sunday ahead of a planned prayer meeting in Highfield, Harare's most populous working-class suburb, where an "opposition ringleader" was shot dead and three policemen were injured in an altercation in the same suburb, also on Sunday.

The meeting was called under the auspices of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign (SZC), a pro-democracy drive launched by several NGOs, labour unions, students and opposition parties in February.

Police spokesman Assistant Commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena told IRIN that the political party leaders were picked up after they were observed "going to high-density areas, inciting people to come out and commit acts of violence. There was no prayer meeting - they were going to hold a rally. No political party, including ZANU-PF [the ruling party], is allowed to hold rallies in Harare."

Rallies were banned in the capital in February, after running battles between the police and MDC supporters took place before a meeting to launch the party's presidential campaign in Highfield.

Bvudzijena confirmed that an "MDC supporter" was shot dead by the police after a "gang of MDC youth" attacked policemen on patrol in the suburb. "Three policemen were injured; one of them sustained several cuts to his head."

Political commentator John Makumbe said police had sealed off the venue of the prayer meeting on Saturday night. "Thousands of people poured into the streets to hold the rally in the Highfield township. There were numerous vicious battles with the police. The intention of the [Save Zimbabwe] Campaign is to escalate the movement, which is happening and will continue."

Makumbe said he sensed a willingness among Zimbabweans to sustain the momentum. "There might be intermittent breaks, like now, with virtually the entire leadership behind bars. But once they [the leaders] get out and have had the time to regroup, the campaign will continue - the intention is to get the campaign going in all the major cities and towns in the country."

He also pointed out that the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) had advertised a stayaway on 3 April and 4 April, signalling a change in attitude towards the defiance campaign.

Lawyers for the arrested leaders told IRIN that they had been unable to access their clients, who remained in custody. "We don't know their whereabouts; we don't even know how many of them have been arrested," said Otto Saki, an attorney with Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, an NGO that defends victims of rights abuses. He said they had seen Tsvangirai in one of the cells in a police station, but had not been allowed access. He claimed they had also spotted one of the arrested leaders swathed in bandages.

Harrison Nkomo, an attorney representing Mutambara, one of the MDC faction leaders, claimed he was assaulted by the police and forced to flee, leaving his vehicle at Machipisa Police Station in Highfield, while trying to establish his client's whereabouts.

"We are still investigating," said police spokesman Bvudzijena, explaining why none of the arrested leaders have appeared in court.

IRIN correspondents reported that, according to some police sources, the leaders had been so badly assaulted that the police were afraid to bring them into court before they recovered from injuries sustained during detention.

At a press conference on Monday, the SZC said the government had behaved "in a typical fascist behaviour, reminiscent of Rhodesian thuggery". Chairperson Pastor Lucky Moyo of the Christian Alliance, a grouping of church leaders, said he was saddened by government's reaction to "peaceful defiance of bad laws".

"The treatment of unarmed civilians is an unfortunate reaction by the government," Moyo said, adding that the authorities should avoid a civil uprising caused by deepening poverty.

With annual inflation running at more than 1,700 percent, shortages of foreign currency and food, tension has been mounting in Zimbabwe over the past two months: NGOs, church groups, labour and students have all staged sporadic demonstrations around the country.

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