SOUTH African President Thabo Mbeki secured the release of MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai from police detention this week after he was arrested at a roadblock in Lupane, Matabeleland North, on his way to a presidential election run-off meeting in the rural area.
Information gathered by the Zimbabwe Independent yesterday was that Mbeki spoke over the phone to senior Zimbabwe government officials appealing for Tsvangirai’s release.
Tsvangirai was arrested alongside his deputy Thokozani Khupe and the MDC national chairperson Lovemore Moyo. They were detained for over 11 hours at Lupane Police Station.
Mbeki’s spokesperson Mukoni Ratshitanga confirmed yesterday that Mbeki came to the rescue of Tsvangirai and some of the leaders of his party.
“Discussions did take place with government representatives in Harare in which the president (Mbeki) appealed for Mr Tsvangirai’s release,” Ratshitanga said.
Sadc appointed Mbeki last year to facilitate talks between Zanu PF and the MDC with a view to finding a lasting solution to the country’s crisis.
Police released Tsvangirai after they impounded a bullet-proof South African registered BMW X5 he was using during the campaign in Matabeleland North.
The police alleged that the driver of the vehicle was not authorised under the Customs and Excise Act to drive the vehicle in Zimbabwe.
The MDC lawyer, Job Sibanda, said the police demanded that the owner of the vehicle should either go to Lupane or send a written affidavit explaining how the vehicle was temporarily imported into Zimbabwe.
“The vehicle was impounded by the police,” Sibanda said.
Tsvangirai told the Independent yesterday that the seizure of the vehicle was part of a bid by the government to instill fear in him ahead of the run-off.
“The vehicle is bullet-proof and was meant for my security,” Tsvangirai said. “I intended to use it to campaign mainly in Mashonaland provinces where violence is rampant.”
The MDC’s run-off campaign in the Mashonaland provinces begins on Monday.
“The arrest is part of ongoing harassment that we are undergoing but that would not deter us and the allegations they were raising was that I addressed a meeting which was not true,” Tsvangirai said.
Prior to his arrest, Tsvangirai was on Tuesday forced to abort a rally at Manama Mission outside Gwanda after he was warned by state security agents along the way that he was heading for danger.
Tsvangirai’s campaign advance party heading for Manama was toldÂ that if he proceeded, the police could not guarantee their security.
“I don’t mind soldiers having an opinion about who they want to vote for, but certainly a coercive military strategy to force people to support a particular candidate and to be active in the campaign has very dangerous consequences,” Tsvangirai said later.
“That must be discouraged, they are opening up the military to being involved in politics, which is dangerous for our democracy.”
The South African presidency this week said it was deeply concerned that the media had been used as tools of disinformation in intelligence projects to “demonise” and wreck the Zimbabwean peace process.
Director-general in the presidency, Frank Chikane, denied that Tsvangirai had written a letter to Mbeki calling on him to withdraw from the Sadc mediation as he was biased and ineffective.
“The logical conclusion is that there is no such letter,” Chikane said.
The mystery of the letter deepened when the MDC this week denied that Tsvangirai had written to Mbeki.
“We are uncertain of the provenance of the letter,” Tsvangirai’s spokesman, George Sibotshiwe was quoted by the international press as saying. “There have been no recent communications between the MDC and President Thabo Mbeki.”
Meanwhile, Tsvangirai said his party welcomed the initiative of United Nations (UN) secretary-general Ban Ki-moon to send international peacekeepers to Zimbabwe ahead of the presidential run-off.
Ki-Moon made the offer to sent the peacekeepers to Mugabe on the sidelines of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)-organised World Food Summit in Rome this week.
The UN chief had expressed concerns about the violence taking place in the country and had indicated that the organisation was prepared to assist Zimbabwe logistically.
“The international peacekeepers will be most welcome because the level of violence around the country has reached critical levels,” Tsvangirai said. “The peacekeepers’ presence is the only solution that will restore confidence among the electorate.”
By Constantine Chimakure