MDC blasts Robert Mugabe over Bennett detention

HARARE – Prime Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai cancelled a weekly Council of Ministers meeting and will not be coming to office to protest Wednesday’s detention of his top ally Roy Bennett, in the biggest test yet for Zimbabwe’s fragile coalition government.

Tsvangirai acted apparently after several attempts to meet President Robert Mugabe or Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa or Attorney General Johannes Tomana to discuss Bennett’s detention failed, the PM’s spokesman, James Maridadi, said.

The former opposition chief will Thursday hold an emergency meeting with senior leaders of his MDC party to discuss the issue of Bennett, who is party treasurer and was ordered back to jail pending the outcome of his trial in the High Court on controversial terrorism charges.

 “The Council of Ministers (meeting on Thursday) has been cancelled. The Prime Minister has suspended his coming to the office until the issue of Senator Bennett is resolved. He wants that matter resolved immediately,” Maridadi told ZimOnline.

“The Prime Minister was keen to meet President Mugabe to talk about Senator Bennett’s issue but all communication was not successful,” said Maridadi.

The Council of Ministers that is chaired by Tsvangirai was created under last year’s global political agreement that gave birth to the coalition government and was touted as away to balance powers between the former trade union leader and Mugabe who chairs Cabinet.

But Mugabe, who controls the army, secret service, police, judiciary and prison service, has done everything to show whom between him and the Prime Minister wields real power in the unity government.  

Tsvangirai’s action to suspend the Council of Ministers and stop coming to office is the first time he has publicly taking on Mugabe, after spending the better part of the past seven months trying to convince a skeptical world that the unity government was working and he had struck a working relationship with his former foe.

Analysts say the MDC and Mugabe’s ZANU PF may not want to see the coalition government collapse because they both stand to benefit from its continued existence but they warn that unilateralism by the veteran President – long used to ruling alone – could in the long run cripple the administration and damage its long term effectiveness.

The defiance of ZANU PF and military hardliners who have continued to invade more white-owned private farms and Mugabe’s refusal to rescind his unilateral decision to appoint two of his top allies as Attorney General and central bank governor have all undermined the unity government.

Western donor nations refused to provide direct financial support to the Harare government demanding more political reforms and a return to rule of law on commercial farms that are key to economic recovery and food security.

One of the MDC’s most popular leaders, Bennett is accused of possessing weapons for the purposes of committing banditry, insurgency and terrorism – charges he denies and which Tsvangirai has repeatedly said are politically motivated and are undermining the unity government.

Bennett’s detention is seen strengthening the hand of hardliners in the MDC and piling pressure on Tsvangirai to take a more robust stance against Mugabe.

In statement earlier on Wednesday, the MDC said Bennett’s detention pending outcome of trial in the High Court was a “serious attack on the credibility” Zimbabwe’s power-sharing government.

“The MDC regards today’s indictment and subsequent detention of treasurer-general and deputy agriculture minister-designate Roy Bennett as yet another serious attack on the credibility of the inclusive government,” the party said.

Bennett’s lawyers are expected to file an urgent application Thursday for his release on bail at the High Court. ZimOnline