Tamsanqa Mahlangu, the deputy minister of youth and a member of the Movement for Democratic Change, was held after being accused of stealing a mobile phone belonging to Joseph Chinotimba, a staunch ally of Robert Mugabe and head of the notorious paramilitary war veterans’ militia.
Chinotimba claimed that Mr Mahlangu stole the phone, a 15-year-old Nokia, while they were sharing a table at a “national shared vision” conference two weeks ago.
“It’s outrageous,” said Mr Mahlangu’s lawyer, Charles Kwaramba. “It’s a kind of phone no one would take if you gave it to them.” Two women arrested in connection with the alleged theft were “severely beaten,” police said.
Mr Mahlangu, who is also the MDC’s youth chairman, is the 17th MP from Mr Tsvangirai’s party to have been arrested and charged since the formation of a coalition Government with Mr Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) party in February.
Observers say the latest arrest is an alarming indication that the shadowy group of military hardliners in Zanu (PF) are becoming increasingly emboldened in their resistance to Mr Tsvangirai’s presence, and that their tactics may soon turn into an open and violent confrontation that may see Robert Mugabe sidelined.
Four MPs from the MDC have been convicted this month by magistrates — whom the MDC accuse of being under the direction of the secret police — on what they insist are trumped-up charges and faked evidence.
Mr Mahlangu’s arrest came a day after the MDC said that Tendai Biti, the Finance Minister, had a bullet delivered to his home. It was accompanied by a letter that said: “Sort out your will.”
“There is a deliberate agenda by Zanu (PF) to eliminate the MDC’s majority in parliament,” said the MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa. “If you are not a marijuana smoker, police will find marijuana in your pocket. Honourable members are now all vulnerable members.”