Banditry Claims Recycled From 1980s To Present

GOVERNMENT has used allegations of terrorism and banditry against opposition leaders since the 1980s in a bid to discredit them, political analysts have said.

The analysts said recent accusations that the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC was recruiting and training militias in Botswana to destabilise Zimbabwe had a striking resemblance to previous cases, which later collapsed like a deck of cards in the courts.
The allegations against the MDC, the analysts said, were meant to discredit the party ahead of last Sunday’s extraordinary Sadc Summit to deal with Zimbabwe’s political crisis and the Democratic Republic of Congo war.
President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF, the analysts claimed, used the allegations to argue against allowing the MDC to take control of the Ministry of Home Affairs under the September 15 power-sharing agreement signed by the 84-year-old leader, Tsvangirai and the leader of the other faction of the MDC, Arthur Mutambara.
Botswana has challenged Sadc and the Zimbabwe government to dispatch a fact-finding mission to the country to investigate the accusations.
Zanu PF accused Tsvangirai of plotting violence and likened him to former Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi.
The state media fuelled the accusations by alleging that: “The opposition is angling for a total collapse of the cabinet talks and will then use the militias to destabilise the country and force the staging of a fresh presidential election under international supervision early next year.”
National Constitution Assembly chairperson Lovemore Madhuku dismissed the accusations against the MDC as nothing but a strategy by Zanu PF to discredit the party.
Madhuku said Zanu PF managed to secure co-management of the Home Affairs ministry together with the MDC after they had told the summit that the party was training militias to destabilise the country.
“The accusations were used as a strategy for Zanu PF to gain the Home Affairs ministry and it worked,” Madhuku said.  
But University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Eldred Masunungure disagreed. He said the allegations made by Zanu PF were “illogical considering that the MDC had voluntarily accepted to participate in the power-sharing talks”.
Masunungure said the terrorism accusations were an incredible story that has been spun before by Zanu PF and have since lost its credibility.However, to many who are familiar with the history of Zimbabwe, the allegations and the smear campaign against the MDC is not something new as Zanu PF has since the early 1980s employed the same method to achieve its goals.
In 1982, barely two years after Zimbabwe’s Independence, the police arrested Zipra chiefs Lookout Masuku and Dumiso Dabengwa for allegedly planning a coup d’état against then Prime Minister Robert Mugabe.
The arrests came after claims by the then Ministry of Security that it had discovered arms caches in Matabeleland meant for banditry.
As a result of lack of evidence, Masuku, Dabengwa, and four others who had been implicated in the coup plot were acquitted by the Supreme Court a year later. However, the six remained in custody under emergency regulations.
This happened during the height of civil disturbances in Matabeleland and the Midlands that reportedly resulted in over 20 000 civilians killed by the North Korean trained Fifth Brigade in what the government claimed to have been a counter-insurgency operation against dissidents.
Over a decade later, the founding member of Zanu, Ndabaningi Sithole, was arrested in 1997 for plotting to kill Mugabe.
The state accused Sithole of setting up an ambush at a hill near Heroes Acres where he planned to attack Mugabe on his way to his rural home in Zvimba.
Sithole was accused of sponsoring Chimwenje, a partisan militia from neighbouring Mozambique, to topple the government.
Sithole died in 2000 in the United States before his appeal against conviction and sentence was heard by the Supreme Court.
In 2000 Tsvangirai was charged with treason on accusations based on a videotaped meeting in Montreal, Canada, with former Israeli spy Ari Ben-Menashe.
The state argued Tsvangirai had discussed the “elimination” of Mugabe with Ben-Menashe.
But in his defence Tsvangirai argued the word “elimination” was used in the political sense, meaning he would defeat Mugabe in the election and remove him from government. Then High Court Judge President Paddington Garwe acquitted Tsvangirai saying there was no proof that the MDC leader had asked Ben-Menashe to help him assassinate Mugabe.
Early last year, the police arrested more than 30 MDC activists including MP Paul Madzore and the party’s elections chief Ian Makone in connection with a series of petrol bombings that occurred around the country in March and April.
The MDC activists, who spent more than six months on remand, appeared in court more than 53 times seeking bail.
The police produced reports – Opposition Forces in Zimbabwe: A Trail of Violence and Opposition Forces in Zimbabwe: The Naked Truth – to substantiate their claims that the opposition and civic organisations were working together to overthrow the Mugabe regime.
Mugabe submitted the reports to Sadc in March last year as evidence that the country was under siege from the MDC, even though with the passage of time the accusation turned out to be a lie.
The reports, according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights Non-Governmental Organisations Forum, at that time sought to portray opposition parties and civic organisations as grouped together with the aid and assistance of foreign governments for the purpose of violently overthrowing the government.
The state alleged that some of the activists who were involved in the petrol bombings had undergone military training in South Africa, a claim which was later dismissed by High Court Judge Lawrence Kamocha when he granted bail to Madzore and four other alleged “petrol bombers”.
 Kamocha ruled that the state had failed to strengthen its case with the passage of time and there was no need to keep the accused in custody.
“As far back as 10 May 2007 the police had promised to bring critical evidence against the applicants from South Africa but with the passage of time it turned out that they had obtained nothing from South Africa incriminating the applicants,” Justice Kamocha said.
Kamocha said the police had failed to prove as alleged that the MDC activists had been trained at a farm known as Lala Bundu in South Africa.
He said police also failed to substantiate the existence of the farm.
Kamocha in handing down the bail ruling also revealed that investigating officer Assistant Commissioner Musarashana Mabunda had provided conflicting evidence on the dates when the activists were alleged to have undertaken military training in South Africa.
“The allegations that are being preferred against the applicants are not clear in that at one stage it was being alleged they underwent military training between December 2006 and March 2007 in Pretoria and Orange Free State. As time progressed it was alleged that the military training in South Africa took place in 2001,” said Kamocha.
Mabunda is said to have further contradicted himself by swearing in an affidavit on June 19 that the alleged training took place in South Africa in different phases between 2002 and 2006 which the judge said made it difficult for the accused to know the period they allegedly underwent military training.
The gradual collapse of the case exposed the regime for having used unsubstantiated claims to discredit the MDC.
By Lucia Makamure