Gwisai arrested as Zanu PF grows uneasy over Mugabe's health

Harare – Dozens of activists including former Highfield MDC MP Munyaradzi Gwisai were arrested in Zimbabwe on charges of subverting the embattled President Robert Mugabe's government after police raided a public meeting where the revolution in Egypt was being discussed, lawyers said Sunday.

Mugabe’s henchmen are growing uneasy over his deteriorating health amid reports of escalating tensions within in his own party. 

On Sunday, the 87 year old dictator retured from Singapore where he had a radiaton therapy for prostate cancer. 

Former Highfield MDC MP Munyaradzi Gwisai and 45 other social and human rights activists were arrested on Saturday for allegedly plotting to destabilise the government.

Police confirmed the arrests and said 46 people were rounded up at an undisclosed place in central Harare on Saturday.

Harare provincial police spokesperson Inspector James Sabau declined to disclose the exact location where the arrests were made.

He said the suspects had organised a meeting where they played video footage of the Egypt uprising allegedly “to inspire and motivate people to demonstrate against the government”.

Sabau said the 46 were arrested on Saturday after Gwisai, an official of the International Socialist Organisation (ISO), invited people from the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU), the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union (Zinasu) and other unions to attend the meeting.

“On February 19 it is said Gwisai invited people from ZCTU, students from Zinasu, Medical Professionals and Allied Workers’ Union and International Socialist Organisation to attend a meeting with a theme — ISO calls on workers, students and the working people to support the struggle in solidarity with Egyptian and Tunisian workers,” said Sabau.

“The agenda of the meeting was the revolt in Egypt and Tunisia — what lessons can be learnt for the working class in Zimbabwe and Africa.

“Videos of the uprising in Egypt and revolts in Tunisia were being shown to the guests who attended as a way to motivate the people to subvert a constitutionally-elected government.”

Sabau said police would not allow any plots to take Zimbabwe the Egypt way and would clamp down mercilessly on plotters of any revolts. 

“It has been said before by our commanders and I will also say it that the Egyptian style (revolution) has no place in Zimbabwe and it will not take place here. We have responsible citizens as compared to the irresponsible citizens in other countries — hence it (revolt) will not work,” he said.

The police spokesperson declined to disclose where the arrested people were being detained saying they were being held somewhere “within Harare” and that they would appear in court “soon”.

A lawyer representing the 46, Marufu Mandevere, however said his clients were being held at Harare Central Police Station and they would probably appear in court Monday.

Mandevere said Gwisai and others were arrested in the city while they were holding a lecture.

“The arrested deny the allegations and say they were just having an academic debate where they were having discussions with the people who attended the function,” said Mandevere. 

The incident came amid growing uncertainty over the health of the 86-year-old Mugabe, who failed to return to Harare on Sunday from Singapore where he was undergoing medical attention.

Another report say police on Saturday burst into the offices of a small radical labour movement and arrested outspoken socialist Munyaradzi Gwisai and 46 others.

They had been attending a lecture in which speakers were debating the implications that the overthrow of Egyptian president Hosny Mubarak would have for Mugabe, said Kumbirai Mafunda, spokesman for Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights. At least one of the people arrested was severely beaten, he said.

State radio reported they had been arrested for destabilizing the constitutionally elected government of Zimbabwe. It quoted police spokesman James Sabau as saying that Zimbabwe would never revolt against Mugabe’s government. The activists were due to appear in court soon.

Commentators have pointed out similarities between the Egyptian and Zimbabwean regimes, whose leaders, both in their 80s, have held power for about the last 30 years through repressive regimes that restricted liberties through violence.

Analysts say the anxieties of senior officials in the Harare regime over events in the Middle East are apparent in numerous warnings in the last two weeks. Defence Minister Emmerson Munangagwa said last week that any attempt to emulate events in Egypt would be crushed.

Officials have confirmed that Mugabe flew to Singapore on February 11 for a review of a cataract operation he underwent in January. They said he would be back in time for his 87th birthday on Monday, a major date on the calendar of his ZANU(PF) party.

Scores of police offices were deployed Sunday morning on the route from Harare’s airport to his home, as they usually are whenever his 30-vehicle motorcade is expected, but they were withdrawn soon after midday.

Reports in January said he had received treatment in Asia for suspected prostate cancer, but officials fiercely denied that he had received medical attention, saying he was on holiday.

Officials in the country’s two-year-old power-sharing government between Mugabe and pro-democracy leader Morgan Tsvangirai have expressed anxiety over Mugabe’s long absence from the country. Since he first ostensibly went on holiday in mid-December, the coalition government’s cabinet has met only once. Mugabe insists that cabinet meetings can take place only with him in the chair.

There is also widespread anxiety in Zimbabwe following Mugabe’s avowal that elections would be held by June, as his youth militia have gone on the rampage since then in what human rights organizations fear is the start of a wave of violent intimidation to terrorize Tsvangirai’s supporters.