Peta Thornycroft and Peter Fabricius

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai met President Jacob Zuma in South Africa yesterday to seek his protection against the imminent arrest by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s judicial authorities, Tsvangirai’s aides said.

If Tsvangirai is arrested, this could drive the final nail into the coffin of the deeply troubled two-year unity government which has already been shaken by the recent arrest of Tsvangirai’s Energy Minister, Elton Mangoma.

Tsvangirai, who heads the larger faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was seen talking to Zuma at the president’s home in Nkandla, KwaZulu-Natal, during an umbondo ceremony yesterday to mark the coming marriage of Zuma’s son Edward.

Zuma’s aides said that Tsvangirai was there on private business not related to the ceremony but would not say what that business was.

MDC sources said that Tsvangirai had gone to Nkandla to tell Zuma he fears that Zimbabwe’s Attorney-General, Johannes Tomana, known to be partial to Mugabe’s Zanu-PF, is planning to arrest him on a charge of contempt of court.

This relates to disparaging remarks that Tsvangirai made earlier this month about Zimbabwe’s Supreme Court judges who upheld the dismissal of MDC Speaker of Parliament, Lovemore Moyo.

Moyo had been removed from his position by Parliament on the grounds that his election had been unprocedural but had appealed the decision to the High Court, which overturned Parliament’s decision and reinstated him.

But Zanu-PF MP Jonathan Moyo, Mugabe’s former Information Minister, appealed to the Supreme Court which overruled the High Court earlier this month and confirmed Moyo’s dismissal.

Tsvangirai criticised the Supreme Court judges, suggesting their decision had been politically motivated. He later retracted the statement.

But MDC sources said Tsvangirai believed that Tomana was nonetheless preparing to lay contempt of court charges against him.

If he did, that would make it very difficult for Tsvangirai to remain in the unity government as he is already being sharply criticised by supporters for allowing himself to be bullied by Mugabe.

When Mangoma was arrested two weeks ago on charges related to the procurement of fuel from South Africa, Tsvangirai said the unity government was on the brink of “divorce”.

He is understood to have said last week that if he were arrested, he would walk out of the government.

His own arrest could push him over the edge.

Tsvangirai’s dilemma, though, is that many observers believe Mugabe is deliberately provoking him into quitting the unity government so he can call new elections, win them by whatever means necessary, and so finally rid himself of the MDC.

In the same vein, Mugabe’s officials have also begun banning MDC rallies and political violence is reportedly increasing, especially in the rural areas of Zimbabwe.

Zuma is the official Southern African Development Community mediator for Zimbabwe.

Ten days ago his office announced that his facilitation team would travel to Zimbabwe this past week to address the stalemate.

But then the facilitation team said it would delay the visit to the first week of April to allow the three Zimbabwean parties to prepare their own progress reports on their negotiations.

However, Tsvangirai’s visit to Zuma in Nkandla yesterday suggests that events in Zimbabwe are overtaking his facilitation team’s relaxed schedule.