Dumisani Muleya/Gift Phiri
OPPOSITION Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai faces his darkest hour in politics yet ahead of the High Court ruling on his landmark treason trial this mo
Tsvangirai, the combativeformer trade unionist-turned-swash-buckling politician in 1999, faces a possible death penalty or life sentence for allegedly plotting to assassinate President Robert Mugabe in 2001.
Diplomats, civil society and opposition party leaders are expected to pack the High Court amid tight security for the critical ruling, which could have grave political consequences for Zimbabwe.
There were fears of clashes between the MDC and Zanu PF over the ruling. MDC spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said yesterday Zanu PF was planning an orgy of violence.
“Reports reaching us indicate that Zanu PF is planning to stir up trouble at the High Court. We are aware of a series of meetings since Friday last week at the Zanu PF provincial headquarters in Fourth Street and at the party’s head office at Rotten Row in Harare at which a plan was hatched to cause mayhem regardless of the verdict,” Nyathi said.
“The idea is to heighten tension at the court, create confusion, and in the melee, cause harm to Tsvangirai. We can only hope for the best and expect the worst out of such a state-sponsored event.”
However, deputy war veterans leader Joseph Chinotimba said ex-combatants would respect the court verdict.
“We are not interested in seeing a particular ruling on the case,” he said. “We will respect whatever judgement. The only thing is that we hate Tsvangirai for opposing the land reform programme.”
But Nyathi insisted that Zanu PF militia in collaboration with “rogue war veterans and misguided state security agents” were planning violence.
“New clothing has been procured for the militias to enable them to gain access to the High Court, fill up the courtroom and then execute their plan,” he said. “Altogether, 600 Zanu PF activists are to be deployed for this operation.”
Last night the Zimbabwe Independent was informed that the MDC was also mobilising its supporters to attend the court session and demonstrate outside court. This set the platform for a potential clash between supporters of the two parties.
Home Affairs minister Kembo Mohadi said police would be on high alert.
Tsvangirai – who was on Wednesday remanded to November 3 on his second treason charge involving alleged subversion – was arraigned in February 2002 after an Australian television first aired the alleged plot to assassinate Mugabe.
The charges, formally made by government’s shadowy Canadian political consultant Ari Ben-Menashe, came in the run-up to the hotly disputed 2002 presidential election.
Two other senior MDC officials, secretary-general Welshman Ncube and agriculture secretary Renson Gasela, were also charged but were acquitted for lack of evidence.
Ben-Menashe, an ex-Israeli spy linked to a series of international scandals, claimed Tsvangirai had approached his firm, Dickens & Madson, to assist in killing Mugabe.
He produced as evidence a heavily doctored fuzzy videotape of a December 2001 meeting in Montreal, Canada, where Mugabe’s “elimination” was allegedly discussed. He also delivered an unintelligible audiotape and was paid US$200 000 by government.
However, Tsvangirai denied the charges, saying they were part of a sting operation to destroy his political career.
Despite panic gripping the MDC, Tsvangirai’s spokesman William Bango said his boss believed he would be acquitted.
“Tsvangirai believes strongly that he will be vindicated,” Bango said. “He has maintained over the past two-and-a-half years that he is innocent and he believes justice will prevail.”
The MDC was yesterday on tenterhooks ahead of the judgement and its national executive council said it would rally behind Tsvangirai.
“The council reaffirmed the MDC view that it is democracy on trial, not the president as an individual,” the MDC said.
“The MDC national council resolved that it will stand in solidarity with the president on judgement day.”
MDC foreign secretary Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga told diplomats in Harare yesterday the treason saga was more a “trial of democracy and the judiciary” than Tsvangirai.
“The whole trial was nothing but a political show specifically designed to cripple the opposition by targeting the leadership in the hope of eventually paralysing and ultimately destroying the MDC,” she said.
“The Mugabe regime has a well-established record of using trumped-up accusations of treason to destroy opposition parties in this country.”
Misihairabwi-Mushonga said the late veteran nationalists Joshua Nkomo and Ndabaningi Sithole were also victims of Zanu PF’s “wicked machinations”.
Former Home Affairs minister Dumiso Dabengwa and ex-Zimbabwe National Army deputy commander Lookout Masuku were tried and acquitted on treason charges of plotting to overthrow government in the early 1980s but remained in jail on Mugabe’s orders.
“In line with the political behaviour of despots the world over, this particular dictator regards criticism and opposition to his tyranny as treasonous,” Misihairabwi-Mushonga said.
“This case has all the hallmarks of Mugabe’s legendary ruthlessness, opportunism and moral deficiency.”
She said Tsvangirai’s trial on the basis of evidence supplied by a discredited witness was a “scandalous waste of public resources”.
“The lengthy trial was unnecessary and a criminal abuse of public funds and a clear demonstration of the extent to which pillars of the state, state institutions, and law enforcement agencies have been politicised and subverted in the service of a brutal tyranny,” she said.
Misihairabwi-Mushonga said Mugabe’s Zanu PF regime hoped Tsvangirai’s conviction would paralyse the MDC’s organisational structure, weaken its leadership and divert its focus from next year’s general election.
“This is all a terrible miscalculation.”