Arrests are "engineered persecutions" says Biti

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) has said it is treating as a death threat the bullet that was sent to the home of Finance Minister, Tendai Biti.

"I’m not worried, but of course I had to report the matter to the police and I’ve done that," he says, "I’m not afraid, I’m not intimidated. My only worry is of my family".

The bullet was delivered with a note in Shona, which the party says, appears to be a threat.

"There’s no doubt about it," says Biti when asked if there’s a concerted campaign going on against the MDC. 

"The arrests and convictions of our members of parliament is not accidental. The efficiency and the speed in which the prosecutions are taking place is not normal," he says, "the fact that these things are being done with such vigour, such exuberance, such energy – and also uniformity – so there’s absolutely no doubt that these are engineered prosecutions".

The most recent arrest of an MDC politician took place last Friday when Stewart Garadhi was arrested. The party says he is accused of playing pro-MDC music in his car.

Deputy Youth Minister Thamsanqa Mahlangu was detained three days earlier, until 13 August, after being accused of being involved in the theft of a mobile phone.

"These are intended to whittle our majority in parliament," says Biti, "If the transitional government breaks down, if it collapses, then there will be an election."

"We all know that there is a junta that is totally unhappy with the current status," he says. When asked about the relationship of President Robert Mugabe to the junta, he says "I’ve no idea. I’ve absolutely no idea."

The Finance minister received a live bullet and a written note enclosed in an envelope addressed to him at his Harare home.

Biti’s aide Nqobizitha Mlilo, confirmed that the 42 year-old secretary-general of the MDC and MP for Harare East constituency viewed this as a death threat on his life on receiving the 9mm bullet and note which was written in shona.

The note said: ‘raira nhaka’ ‘prepare your will.’ The bullet and the note enclosed in an envelope is believed to have been dropped at his house.

iti, a lawyer by profession is a very vocal and fearless politician and is currently embroiled in a fierce battle for control of the financial levers of government with Reserve Bank governor Gideon Gono.

The fight between Biti and Gono, who enjoys the backing of the Defence Forces Generals, reflects the broader ongoing political struggle for control between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai which many fear may be played out in several other areas and key government institutions.

The two have had clashes before, with Biti describing Gono as an “Al-Qaeda”-like official deserving to be put before a firing squad for his activities as central bank governor.

Other analysts believe it might be a sinister plot by some people in ZANU PF while others are considering the possibility that the threat could be the work of a mentally unstable person

Meanwhile, the mother of Biti’s aide Nqobizitha Mlilo an MDC official was savagely beaten over the head with an iron bar and left for dead in Mvuma on Wednesday evening.

The attack on the defenceless Athanancia Mlilo, a 63 year old nurse and mother of Nqobizitha Mlilo, has left the small community in Mvuma shell-shocked. She had been walking home from work around 8pm when she was set upon from behind by an unknown man.

Mrs Mlilo is now receiving treatment at a private hospital in Harare. Her injuries were so serious she received 25 stitches to her head. The attack has been described as attempted murder and the attacker has been identified by the local community, but the police are too scared to arrest him because of his political connections.

Mlilo believes that the attack on his mum was politically motivated and has pointed a finger at Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa’s thugs in the area. Mnangagwa is the ZANU PF MP for Mvuma-Zivangwe.

Mlilo is a top aide to Finance Minister Tendai Biti and Economic Planning Minister Elton Mangoma. Mlilo was the MDC’s regional coordinator for years, based in South Africa until February, when he relocated to Harare at the advent of the inclusive government.

‘I thank god that my mum is still alive. She was first hit from behind and when she turned around the attacker continued hitting her head until she fell down. Whilst down, the attacker still went for her head in an assault described by eyewitnesses as an unprovoked and mindless thuggery,’ Mlilo said.

Only her screams which attracted people nearby saved her life as they rushed to her aid. The attacker fled the scene but people were able to describe to the police his build and the clothes he was wearing.

‘Mvuma is a very small community and one cannot commit such a cowardly attack and go unnoticed. The police know who it is but they are too scared to make an arrest,’ Mlilo said.

‘There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that certain very powerful people were behind the attack, so powerful that the police are turning a blind eye to such a crime,’ Mlilo added.

Recently, Mlilo sponsored two successful soccer tournaments for primary and secondary schools in Mvuma and believes this could have led him on a collision course with Mnangagwa, a man who is well known for dealing ruthlessly with his political opponents.

Reports say Mnangagwa responded by organizing two similar tournaments, which were however poorly attended. This triggered a conspiracy theory in the Mnangagwa camp that Biti, Mangoma and Roy Bennett, the MDC treasurer-general, were allegedly plotting to topple him from the constituency in the next general elections.

‘I’ve had so many phone calls from people in the constituency alerting me to dangers I was exposing myself to by trying to uplift the community I grew up in. I ended up going to the University of Cape Town because of the education I received in Mvuma, so I owe it to the people there to offer my services whenever I can,’ he said.

Mlilo said he has been very clear that he has no political intentions of being an MP in the area but also made it clear he would not succumb to political chicanery.

‘If that was a message to say stay clear of Mvuma or they wanted to dismantle my spirit of uplifting the community, then I don’t know if that will work by targeting other people who are not me,’ Mlilo said.