On the eve of nationwide demonstrations by National Electoral Reforms Agenda (Nera), MDC-T president Morgan Tsvangirai on Friday paid a visit to Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison to show solidarity with nearly 70 opposition activists who are locked up in remand prison. They were arrested following demonstrations that rocked Harare three weeks ago.
Tsvangirai was, however, denied permission to see the prisoners on the grounds that he and his entourage were not ordinary people visiting relatives at the penitentiary and as such, they needed special clearance. The Standard Senior Reporter Blessed Mhlanga (BM) caught up with the MDC-T leader to discuss the Chikurubi incident and the planned demonstrations.
BM: You have been denied permission to visit your party members on the grounds that you are not ordinary persons, how do you take this?
MT: This is obviously unlawful. It is intended to humiliate me. I have come to see our people like anybody else; it’s my constitutional right. What clearance am I supposed to seek? But anyway, we will follow their process although this is an unusual instruction with the intention of creating confrontation which is not necessary. I have come to see prisoners, not prison guards.
BM: MDC-T is part of Nera and it will be headlining demonstrations. Are they going to happen given the threats, harassments and arrests of demonstrators by the government?
MT: Every district has followed due process. I am informed that some districts have been given clearance, so we believe it’s a constitutional right for Zimbabweans to express their desire for free and fair elections and the people are going to heed the call even in the face of oppression and violence against the people by Zanu PF and its police.
BM: President Mugabe has threatened to crush demonstrations, saying that his patience with protesters is running out. Are you going to back down?
MT: We are going to up the game. We are going to ratchet the game because it’s important for Zanu PF and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to understand that this is a right. We are not going to continue to participate in elections that we know are rigged even before we start. For instance, we have this ban; the ban is a declaration of a state of emergency. How do you say you are going to an election when you are putting conditions of a state of emergency before the elections? So already the 2018 elections are disputed because of the preconditions that are being set.
BM: You also wanted to visit MDC-T activists who were convicted of murder, with your party on record saying this was a political judgement.
MT: First of all the incarceration raises a lot of questions. We believe that it’s the same conditions that we are facing, that [former Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian] Smith imposed on Zimbabweans, where politically motivated judgements are then put in place to discourage Zimbabweans from excising their rights.
Now in this case, one of the funny episodes is that, I don’t want to go into the legal arguments, but how can five people hold one stone to kill one person. How does that happen?
Anyway, I don’t want to question the judge or anybody; all I am saying is, this is a politically motivated incarceration and I have come to offer my solidarity with the people.
BM: Are you offering solidarity to those convicted of the Glen View police officer murder only?
MT: It’s not only them. It’s also the close to 70 who have been denied bail almost two, three weeks after the event. So we see an attempt to target certain people and to send a message to discourage people from exercising their constitutional right.
BM: Are you motivated by the European Union resolutions which called on President Mugabe’s government to respect human rights and release all political prisoners unconditionally?
MT: I have always said re-engagement with Zanu PF must be based on conditions that we all subscribe to. We cannot allow an unbridled reengagement with Zanu PF without conditions. There has to be conditions.
We need to have a free and fair election process. We need to have democratic rights restored. We need access to media for everyone. We need freedom generally and this is what is being denied. I don’t see how the international community will re-engage Zanu PF without these conditions.