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The End of the Zimbabwean Farce?

Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as Zimbabwean Prime Minister on Wednesday, 11 February.  It seems like a lifetime ago that Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party won the first round of the presidential elections.  Of course, the Zimbabwean government informed the world that Tsvangirai did not win an absolute majority, he only won 47% of the vote.  This necessitated a run-off vote later last spring.  Robert Mugabe held onto power by having his good squads run around the country terrorising anyone who was voting for the MDC.  Tsvingirai felt he had no choice in this case but to withdraw from the run-off, fearing greater political violence.  Thus, Mugabe won the run-off election.

However, in September, the MDC and Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party came to a power-sharing agreement, brokered by now-former South African President Thabo Mbeki.  Mugabe would remain President, Tsvingirai would become Prime Minister, the MDC would control the police force, and ZANU-PF would remain in control of the military.  The MDC would gain 16 posts in cabinet, whilst ZANU-PF would get 15.  But it was not so simple.  The agreement was brokered in September and Tsvingirai was only sworn in as Prime Minister in February.  

As I have documented elsewhere, Mugabe's become rather, ahem, paranoid as Zimbabwean president, threatening all and sundry with imprisonment and other forms of punishment.  The MDC and Tsvingirai have oftentimes been his target.  Tsvingirai's Wikipedia page documents a number of his arrests, including a brutal beating he suffered the day after his 55th birthday.  But all of this seemed to be history last Wednesday.  

But then news broke of the arrest of Roy Bennett, Tsvingirai's nominee for Deputy Minister of Agriculture.  Bennett was arrested and charged with treason just hours after the new government was sworn in. Bennett, treasurer of the MDC, is a white farmer who has been in conflict with Mugabe before.  He lost his land in the re-distribution of farmland from white to black Zimbabweans in 2003, and served a term in jail in 2004-05.  Bennett just returned from a three-year exile in South Africa in January.  He fled there after being accused of involvement in a plot to kill Mugabe.

Today, however, the BBC reports that the treason charges have been dropped against Bennett.  They have been replaced, however, with a new set of charges, including an attempt to acquire arms to disrupt essential services.  As his lawyer, Trust Maanda notes, the case against Bennett is weak.  And the downgrading of charges from treason to attempting to acquire arms must be an admission by the government of this.  Surely this means that Bennett will soon be released and Mugabe will stop using state terrorism against members of the MDC.  As the BBC notes, more than 30 MDC members have been imprisoned in Zimbabwe within the past two months.  UPDATE: Or maybe it doesn't represent a significant downgrade of charges against Bennett, as the BBC is today reporting that these charges mean that Bennett is facing accusations of terrorism.

But hopefully the power-sharing agreement, and the fact that Mugabe no longer controls the police, will lead to an end of these trumped up charges against the opposition in what is supposed to be a democratic country.  One would think that the fact that the power-sharing agreement was negotiated and finally put into action shows that Mugabe can see the writing on the wall.

Morgan Tsvingirai was once a member of Mugabe's ZANU-PF at the time of Zimbabwean independence from Britain in 1980.  He was 28 years old then.  Exactly half of his lifetime later, he is now the Prime Minister.  Let us hope that this is the start of a new era for Zimbabwe, and let us hope that something can be done to save that country from the economic nightmare it has been in for the last decade or so.  But, as the BBC notes, Tsvingirai's work is just begun

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