Tendai Biti, finance minister and secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), received an envelope at his home last week containing a 9mm bullet and a death threat telling him to prepare his will. One of his employees was hospitalised after being beaten and kicked by a soldier outside Biti’s front gate.
Tsvangirai and Biti are the MDC’s principal players in the six-month-old power-sharing agreement with Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, whose supporters have been blamed for a surge in political violence in recent weeks.
"Tsvangirai is the face of change in Zimbabwe and change is a threat to those who have been benefiting from the status quo," Biti told the Guardian. "Yes, we are at risk [of assassination] and I think we are being irresponsible by having the lax security arrangements we have, certainly myself."
He continued: "The fact of the matter is that we are in a struggle, a vicious struggle. The easiest and most opportunistic solution is to eliminate, and when you eliminate particularly strategic persons like prime minister Tsvangirai, you take the struggle backwards for many years. So of course any opponent would have to strategise and say, ‘Look guys, this is an easy solution.’
"But killing somebody is not easy and also the world has moved. The information highway has helped: Zimbabwe is not an island. There will be harsh consequences to any act of insanity."
The finance minister, who has been credited with rebuilding the economy after last year’s record hyperinflation, conceded that he should take the threat to his safety more seriously. "If they want to do anything to you, they can do it. I don’t move around with a bodyguard because God is my bodyguard. I don’t think about my personal security, which I think is stupid, but that’s the reality."
The inclusive government last month launched a campaign of "national healing" and reconciliation, which prompted the rare sight of Mugabe and Tsvangirai laughing together on stage. Mugabe called for an end to violence, urging Zimbabweans to promote "the values and practice of tolerance, respect, non-violence and dialogue as a means of resolving political differences".
But last weekend Biti’s gardener was assaulted outside the politician’s home in Harare. Howard Makonza said he was passing the residence of the national army commander, General Philip Valerio Sibanda, when three armed guards told him to stop. He continued walking and a soldier started chasing him down the street. Makonzi ran to Biti’s house but the soldier caught him outside the gate and struck him to the ground.
Makonza recalled: "He started beating me in a strong way, kicking me in the head, in my mouth and all over my body. He beat me for about 20 minutes. I thought he was going to kill me. I was screaming and people ran away, but my workmate helped me and opened the gate so Mr Biti’s vicious dogs came out. The soldier shook the gate and said ‘Now you’re for it’ but then he went away.
"I was bleeding in from the teeth and the lips. They called a doctor for me and I was taken to hospital. Later we went to the police and they asked the soldier why he beat me. The soldier said ‘I want to beat him again’ in front of the police, who said they would come back the next day."
The 39-year-old gardener now fears for his safety. "They want to destroy me. I’ve got small children to support and my mother is ill. I’m the breadwinner so if they destroy me, no one can support my family." The Guardian (UK)