TALKS between Zanu PF and the MDC being mediated by South African President Thabo Mbeki were in jeopardy yesterday after the opposition’s chief negotiator Tendai Biti was arrested on treason charges and communicating falsehoods prejudicial to the state, soon after his return home.
Biti – who has been based in South Africa for over a month – was arrested at Harare Airport after he landed on a South African Airways flight despite a deal struck during the negotiations in Pretoria this week that he would not be detained if he returned.
Police spokesperson Wayne Bvudzijena yesterday confirmed Biti’s arrest and said he would be charged for contravening sections of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act.
“He is facing two charges – treason and issuing false statements prejudicial to the state,” Bvudzijena told the Zimbabwe Independent last night. “The treason charge arises from a document he authored, “The Transition Strategy”, while the other charge is about statements he made after the March 29 harmonised elections.”
“The Transition Strategy” is the document Biti’s lawyers in a letter to the Herald on April 18 said was a forgery. The Herald said it got it from the Internet.
Lawyers last night made an urgent court application to compel the police to disclose Biti’s whereabouts.
The MDC yesterday said its leader Morgan Tsvangirai was also arrested in Kwekwe to “stop his trailblazing” presidential run-off election campaign. He was briefly arrested again in Gweru.
But Bvudzijena said the opposition leader was not arrested, but was stopped at a roadblock and asked to “accompany” the police to their station for his own safety.
“He was not arrested,” Bvudzijena said. He was stopped at a roadblock and to avoid unnecessary attention and for his safety was asked to come to the police station. Tsvangirai has claimed that his life is under threat and it is our duty to protect his safety. Remember he was once attacked in Kwekwe.”
Takalani Matibe, the party’s MP-elect for Chegutu West, was reportedly arrested and his home destroyed after Tsvangirai visited him in Chegutu on his way to Kwekwe.
The rural home of Kwekwe Central legislator Blessing Chebundo in Hurungwe was reportedly also burnt down on Tuesday night.
Police raided the offices of the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association as repression and violence intensified during the week. Opposition leaders and supporters, civil society activists, journalists and diplomats have been arrested in this escalating crackdown.Â
Sources said the continued crackdown on the MDC and its leaders was likely to scuttle the Sadc-initiated talks aimed at ensuring a peaceful run-off and finding a lasting solution to the country’s crisis.
The talks, the sources said, were now focused on the June 27 presidential run-off between Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe.
The sources told the Zimbabwe Independent that talks between Zanu PF and MDC were held on Tuesday and Wednesday in Pretoria and centred on the return to Zimbabwe of Biti and the escalating political violence in the country ahead of the June 27 run-off between Tsvangirai and President Robert Mugabe.
The negotiations were presided over by South African Local Government minister Sydney Mufamadi assisted by director-general in the Presidency Rev Frank Chikane and Mbeki’s legal adviser, Mojanku
Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa and Public Service minister Nicholas Goche represented Zanu PF, while the MDC-Tsvangirai sent Biti and secretary for economic affairs Elton Mangoma
The Arthur Mutambara-led MDC was this time not represented because the negotiations focused on the run-off.
The sources said the MDC-Mutambara camp was excluded because Pretoria wanted to deal with the Tsvangirai faction which has publicly said it no longer has confidence in Mbeki’s mediation. Tsvangirai’s group is demanding Mbeki pledge impartiality and guarantee Mugabe will come to the negotiating table as a willing and equal partner.