ZIMBABWE has sent a team of investigators to Botswana to probe an alleged plot of banditry involving Botswana authorities and opposition MDC activists, raising the diplomatic tensions between the two states.
The investigation into claimed acts of destabilisation came at a time when diplomatic relations between Harare and Gaborone â€” uneasy neighbours â€” were seriously strained by the issue which has been discussed at the regional level.
Diplomatic sources said Zimbabweâ€™s investigation team is led by Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Joey Bimha. The sources said the mission also includes other Foreign Affairs officials and state security officers.
It is said the team arrived in Gaborone on Tuesday night. It was expected to meet government officials and other stakeholders between Wednesday and today to â€œinvestigate circumstances surrounding training of MDC activists in banditry activitiesâ€.
Efforts to get a comment from government were unsuccessful last night. Zimbabwe is claiming that Botswana is providing MDC activists with military training on its territory to destabilise the country.
â€œA group of MDC activists were recently arrested and allegedly coerced to admit training and recorded in the process in a bid to create evidence for the trumped-up charges,â€ a source said. â€œThe whole plot is similar to the charges against Joshua Nkomo and PF Zapu officials such as Dumiso Dabengwa and Lookout Masuku (in the early 1980s). It is also similar to cases involving Ndabaningi Sithole and (MDC leader) Morgan Tsvangirai.â€
Government has since 1980 been making similar allegations, arresting and torturing the accused, but later failing to prove its claims. Before just about every election identical allegations are raised and people arrested and tortured mainly on false charges. Â
Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa recently accused Tsvangirai of trying to be like the late notorious Angolan rebel leader Jonas Savimbi and his Unita movement.
The MDC dismissed this saying Tsvangirai had no reason to do so when he could defeat Mugabe in any free and fair election. The MDC also said it had no cause to turn to rebel activities when it has the largest number of MPs in parliament. Â
Botswana has also dismissed Zimbabweâ€™s allegations as â€œnonsensical and absurdâ€. It invited a full investigation.
Botswana President Ian Khama has refused to recognise Mugabe as the legitimate president, saying he won the second round of elections in June via a brutal campaign of violence and murder. Khama has also refused to attend official Sadc meetings with Mugabe, arguing he is not a legitimate head of state.
The Botswana leader has said if power-sharing talks between Zanu PF and the MDC factions fail, there should be fresh free and fair elections under international supervision. Mugabeâ€™s regime reacted angrily, saying this was an â€œextreme act of provocationâ€.
Zimbabwe and Botswana have had difficult relations since 1980 due to trade and political disputes.
Mugabe recently tried to calm down Khama, claiming he was a â€œfriend and even a relativeâ€.
Last week, after the Sadc summit in South Africa, Botswanaâ€™s Foreign Affairs minister Phandu Skelemani said if the power-sharing talks fail his government would â€œgo back to square oneâ€ by not recognising Mugabe as president.
Skelemani said his government was â€œshocked by the baseless and absurd chargesâ€ made by Harare regarding acts of banditry and destabilisation.
Zimbabwe first officially made the allegations at the extraordinary meeting of the Interstate Defence and Security Committee held in Mozambique on November 5.
â€œThe allegations that the Government of Botswana would wish to train foreign nationals on its territory to effect regime change is ridiculous,â€ Skelemani said.
â€œAll those who are aware of Botswanaâ€™s longstanding commitment to the principles of good neighbourliness, non-interference in the internal affairs of others, and peaceful resolution of disputes in our region and elsewhere would no doubt attest to this.â€
By Dumisani Muleya