The MDC, which formed a unity government with Mugabe’s ZANU-PF in February, is accusing Mugabe’s ZANU-PF of instigating arrests of lawmakers to whittle its slim majority in parliament.

The MDC said Stewart Garadhi, an MP for Chinhoyi constituency about 100 km (62 Miles) west of Harare, had been picked up by plain clothes officers who accused him of playing a popular MDC song extolling Tsvangirai.

He has been detained at a police station in Chinhoyi, the MDC said in a statement. Police and ZANU-PF officials were not immediately available for comment.

The MDC says some senior security officers are targeting its members as part of a plot to derail the new administration.

On Thursday the MDC’s deputy minister of youth Tamsanqa Mahlangu appeared in court on charges of stealing a cellphone.

He was granted a $50 bail by a Harare magistrate on Friday but the state invoked a section of the country’s tough security laws to keep him in detention for longer.

Five other MDC legislators have appeared in court on charges ranging from political violence to corruption. On Friday a magistrate in the southern town of Masvingo acquitted an MDC lawmaker who was on trial for corruption.

Robert Mugabe is trying to regain the parliamentary majority he lost in the March 2008 elections by convicting and sentencing MPs of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) so they are thrown out of Parliament.

This is the view of MDC-T and many observers. Two MDC-T MPs were expelled in the past week.

A deputy minister from Morgan Tsvangirai’s party has been arrested and imprisoned for alleged theft, the latest in a series of detentions of supporters of Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister since he formed a power-sharing Government with Robert Mugabe.

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.

Another has been convicted and sentenced to more than six months in jail, allowing the Zanu-PF-aligned Clerk of Parliament Austin Zvoma to expel him when Parliament sits again next month.

And MDC-T’s Kwekwe MP is facing rape charges and can expect to be convicted and sentenced to more than six months in prison.

Other MPs of the party are also believed to be in the firing line.

All the sentenced MPs either have or will appeal to higher courts, but the Zanu-PF justice department and almost most wigs on the Bench are party apparatchiks, so that will probably not help, and appeals can take years anyway.

In the meantime, they will remain suspended from Parliament, unable to vote.

After the March 2008 elections, MDC-T had 100 seats, Zanu-PF 99 and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara’s MDC (MDC-M) 10.

Since then, deaths, movements through appointments to the unity government and the suspending of MPs have brought MDC-T’s total seats in the National Assembly down to 98, Zanu-PF’s to 95 and MDC-M’s to eight.

If MDC-M votes with MDC-T, and the one independent MP, Jonathan Moyo, votes with Zanu-PF, as expected, then the combined MDCs will have 106 seats, a majority of 10 over Zanu-PF plus Moyo.

In August, the new provincial governors including, for the first time, some from the MDC, are scheduled to be sworn in. One MDC-T MP has opted to give up her seat and become a governor. And the Kwekwe MP is sure to lose his seat.

That will bring MDC-T’s majority over Zanu-PF plus Moyo to one, and the combined MDC’s majority to eight.

So, in the next few weeks or months, MDC-T expects about nine of its MPs to be arrested and charged: the number it will take for Zanu-PF to regain the majority.

In the senate, Mugabe already has a clear majority, mostly through seats appointed by him as president and the expected loyalty of most of the 18 appointed chiefs.

This senate majority could be decisive on certain issues, though the National Assembly has most say.

The MDC-T MPs who will probably be arrested in the next few months will likely be from rural constituencies.

That’s where Mugabe’s attorney-general, Johannes Tomana, an enthusiastic Zanu-PF supporter and beneficiary of its largess, has been pursuing a programme of the most selective prosecutions seen during Mugabe’s nearly 30 years of abusive prosecutions.

The MPs’ trials have so far taken place a six-hour drive or further from Harare, and so were conveniently not covered by journalists because of the staggering costs of reporting in Zimbabwe.

But it appears that Tomana has a crew of prosecutors working industriously in these outlying areas to prosecute MDC-T MPs.

The prosecutors barely follow court procedures, but that doesn’t matter, because the cases are being heard by partisan magistrates in bush courts who believe all Zanu-PF witnesses and discount anyone testifying for the defence, according to sources.

One of the magistrates, middle-aged Samuel Zuze, his career recently revived and now driving a new double-cab in the eastern town of Chipinge, has already managed to convict and sentence three MPs.

MDC-T officials say it is now becoming clear why Mugabe insisted on reappointing Tomana in 2008, in violation of the unity government agreement which stipulated that this should have been a joint appointment.

And it’s also clear why he would not surrender sole control of the home affairs ministry – which supervises the police – to MDC-T.

Home affairs is being jointly run by Zanu-PF’s Kembo Mohadi and MDC-T’s Giles Mutsekwa, but many critics, even in MDC-T, complain that Mutsekwa has failed to prevent Zanu-PF abusing the police to pursue MDC-T MPs and activists, who continue to be arrested.

Not a single Zanu-PF or senior official has been arrested, despite the party’s obvious leading role in political violence, particularly the campaign that preceded the June 2008 presidential run-off election which persuaded Tsvangirai to withdraw from the poll.

Tsvangirai’s office says he will meet President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria this week to complain about the arrest of opposition MPs and hundreds of Zanu-PF breaches of the political agreement signed last September, which led to the inclusive government. – IOL Foreign Service