Standing in the dock recently, handcuffed, shackled, and in prison-issue khaki short trousers, he looked up at a portrait of the president.
“How are you, father?” he asked Robert Mugabe’s image to laughter around the court. “How is your health?”
On April 8th such lèse majesté cost him another charge, insulting the president, and the possibility of another year in jail He had already spent four weeks in a cell in February and March on a charge of inciting public violence, vehemently denied, before being released on bail.
Mwonzora is one of 30 of the 109 members of the opposition in parliament, several of them members of the notionally power-sharing cabinet, who have been arrested and jailed since their election in 2008. Human rights observers have complained of a systematic campaign by Mugabe supporters in the police and prosecuting services to intimidate and deplete the MDC ranks in parliament. Some 200 MDC supporters died at the hands of the security authorities or gangs of Mugabe thugs during the 2008 election campaign.
MDC energy minister Elton Mangoma is facing trial for allegedly bypassing official tender procedures to buy supplies for the state power utility. He has spent three weeks in jail. Moses Mzila-Ndlovu, a co-minister in the state national healing commission and a Roman Catholic priest, was detained last week for allegedly holding an unapproved memorial service for victims of massacres in western Zimbabwe after independence in 1980.
Another minister has been charged with failing to report an accident in which his state car was dented by a bollard. No-one was hurt. Earlier this year, another MDC MP was charged with possessing marijuana after he went to report a theft from his home and police searched his car. The list goes on. And many opposition activists have every reason to fear not only arrest but for their lives at the hands of Mugabe’s goons.This week 87-year-old Mugabe began his 32nd year in power and gave every impression of preparing for an election and a further term, despite growing dissension within his own Zanu-PF party and domestic and international pressure to step aside.
Two weeks ago, in signs of a hardening of opposition among neighbouring states, he was sharply warned by South African president Jacob Zuma not to follow through on the latest threats to arrest MDC leader, prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, and told to end the crackdown on the MDC.
Zambian president Rupiah Banda pointedly spoke of how the popular uprisings in north Africa and the Middle East had shown what could happen when leaders did not listen to their people.
The rebuke from Zuma, the Zimbabwe mediator for the regional South African Development Community, was a welcome sharpening of its so-far ineffective pressure. Unlike the robust criticism by the Economic Community of West African States of Laurent Gbagbo in the Ivory Coast, and indeed support for his ousting, Zuma and predecessor Thabo Mbeki have disappointed many with their tolerance of the old liberation fighter Mugabe. The organisation is now, however, expected to step up pressure further at an extraordinary summit on Zimbabwe scheduled for May in Namibia. About time, too.
Crucially, it will have to insist that Zimbabweans must be given a chance to vote on a new constitution, and that electoral rules and practices must be changed to ensure a free and fair vote, before the country holds the presidential election Mugabe says he wants by September.
Police have been banning Tsvangirai rallies, and Zanu-PF officials, many of them army officers on paid leave, have been deploying round the country to mobilise the party’s youth section and liberation war veterans to attack and harass MDC supporters in rural areas as they have done systematically in elections over the last decade.
Speaking anonymously to a New York Times correspondent of Zanu-PF’s election strategy, a party official unusually candidly confirmed the party was engineering the arrests of MDC lawmakers in hopes of driving them out of the government.The “unity” government, created under the global political agreement signed by Mugabe and the MDC in 2008, has largely been a sham, although it has managed to partially stabilise the economy. But the reins of the corrupt and deeply partisan security establishment remain firmly in Mugabe loyalist hands, with top generals simply refusing to implement government policy and boycotting the new national security body.
Many have also bluntly made it clear they would not recognise Tsvangirai as president if elected.
This week, negotiators for the three parties in Zimbabwe’s government, in crucial talks on a road map for elections, failed to agree on whether and how to overhaul the national security apparatus. But they noted some progress on electoral reform and the constitution, although Zanu-PF is insisting international sanctions against its members be lifted ahead of voting.So far so good, but the reality is Mugabe has, in the past anyway, shown little sign of observing written agreements, and the leopard has not changed its spots-Irish Times