Zimbabwe's 87-year-old president President Mugabe has scoffed at speculation over his health as "misplaced" and said he and his wife are fitness enthusiasts. Photo: Reuters

With or without President Robert Mugabe’s agreement, Zimbabwe’s securocrats intend to drive Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the main Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party, out of the two-year-old unity government.

The only way Zanu-PF can force the election this year is by continued arrests and repression of MDC leaders and supporters to humiliate Tsvangirai and leave him with no alternative but to walk out of the government. That would clear the way for Mugabe to call new elections and get rid of the MDC.

While Tsvangirai remains as prime minister, Mugabe has to “consult” him before calling elections. So far Mugabe has largely ignored the requirement to consult Tsvangirai on many other important issues.

But Mugabe knows that President Jacob Zuma, Zimbabwe mediator for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), will not let him get away with a unilateral proclamation of elections.

This is the talk in the coffee shops and the townships where many people are so poor they eat no more than a little mealie meal with a slice of cabbage once a day.

So what will Zanu-PF do next to humiliate Tsvangirai and try to drive him out of the unity government?

“Oh, they will arrest Tsvangirai this week,” said Thomas Machisa, a vendor.

“So what should we do? No one will go onto the streets. This is not Egypt or Libya, but we are more desperate than they are. We know we can never go to the streets because they will arrest us all before we get to the streets,” said Farai Gumbo, who runs a coffee shop.

He used to be an MDC organiser but said he had given up politics.

“I would still vote for the MDC; no one here could ever vote for Zanu-PF but we can’t do anything. The police and the CIO (Central Intelligence Organisation) are everywhere.”

A shopkeeper, whose fortunes have improved enormously since the unity government came to power said: “Many people say it is the soldiers who keep Mugabe in power. Yes that is true, but mostly it is because Zanu-PF has the money. No one can be loyal to anyone without money and Zanu-PF has the money to hire the thugs.”

Most urban people expect Tsvangirai to be arrested within the next week.

He allegedly committed contempt of court after a supreme court judgment that the 2008 election of parliament’s MDC speaker, Lovemore Moyo, was illegal.

Tsvangirai allegedly said: “We won’t accept the decisions of Zanu-PF politicians masquerading as judges.”

The sudden surge of arrests of MDC supporters, including energy minister Elton Mangoma and a clutch of MDC MPs, began about a month ago. Most were later released on bail.

In most cases, the judges, even those loyal to Zanu-PF, have found it too difficult to support the state’s case and have eventually granted bail.

Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa’s ministry is so chaotic that it takes superhuman effort to get the necessary documents in place ahead of court appearances of those arrested.

The trio in charge of this phase of the latest war against the MDC is Chinamasa, pro-Zanu-PF attorney-general Johannes Tomana and police commissioner general Augustin Chihuri.

Elton Mangoma was arrested in connection with $5 million (R35m) worth of fuel he secured from South Africa, when Zimbabwe’s filling stations were running dry.

He cleared this deal with Mugabe first. But now he is facing charges for doing just that. Chihuri, Tomana and Chinamasa had him arrested.

When he arrived in court on Tuesday, Judge Simon Kudya mocked the state case, saying it lacked merit and was based entirely on oral evidence.

Mangoma was released on R35 000 bail.

The so-called “group of 45”, including some socialist students, were arrested and charged with treason for watching videos about uprisings in North Africa. They were released on R100 000 bail. This judge also ridiculed the state case against them.

Some of this group claimed they were beaten ferociously in detention.

Charges against all but six of the 45 were eventually dropped.

Mugabe is having health problems and it is emerging some of the decisions to arrest MDC people are being made without his advance knowledge.

When his actions are queried, Mugabe’s escape nowadays is to plead: “I am old now, I must consult.”

This, many say, is proof that he is increasingly becoming a figurehead in an administration controlled by a junta.

But they need Mugabe to drive the campaign and be elected president to protect the looters, among them most of the senior officers in the security services.

Zanu-PF does not lack money. Revenue from smuggled diamonds and pay-offs by diamond companies have improved the party’s fortunes.

Aside from the political tensions, Zimbabwe is beginning to bloom again, with cleaner streets, new shops, mushrooming supermarkets stuffed with South African goods, colourful sports days and a huge increase in farm produce.

However, the townships are steaming with anger and fear.

Harare has been MDC territory for 11 years now, but bit by bit, all that is being driven underground again as the party’s participation in the unity government fails to meet the aspirations of its rank and file supporters. - Sunday Independent