Zimbabwe: The Chess Game Is Now In The Open

President Motlanthe of South Africa, who said at the weekend the issue of Zimbabwe's prisoners, including Roy Bennett and Jestina Mukoko has nothing to do with SADC and must be solved by the Inclusive government now in place in Zimbabwe


The latest from here in Zimbabwe:

Roy Bennet appeared in court today and was remanded in custody to March 4 2009. He will spend that time in Mutare Prison, although there is a hearing tomorrow that is supposed to decide on his appliation for bail.

This is unlikely to suceed, considering that the prosecution says he is a high flight-risk character who was actually caught trying to flee Zimbabwe.

There is still no news on the other prisoners, Jestina Mukoko et al, who were supposed to be brought to court today. They failed to show up on Monday beause the police said they had no petrol to bring them to court.

Crucially, it has now been publicly reported for the first time that the charges against Jestina Mukoko, Roy Bennett and others are simply a way for ZANU PF to arm-twist the MDC.

On Monday, during a meeting of the JOMIC, the joint body set up to monitor the grievances of the Inclusive Government, Patrick Chinamasa point blank told Morgan Tsvangirai and his party what is needed to get Bennett and Jestina Mukoko released.

ZANU PF wants sweeping amnesty for ALL political crimes committed since 1980. Yes, you read right, 1980! Which would mean that there will never be an accounting for Gukurahundi. And there also will be no holding to account for the people who used violence in the June 27 2008 run-off.

Mugabe is not worried about himself at all because he has no intention of going anywhere. Nor are the Generals worried, as was exlplained by two of them to a colleague of mine over the weekend.

Here's the thing: Mugabe and ZANU PF have always relied on the impunity of their supporters to get them to harass the opposition and even internal members who have fallen out of favour. A ZANU PF member knows that he can do pretty much anything to a political opponent, especially from the MDC, and never have to spend a day in jail.

Mugabe wants to reassure his supporters that this is still the case. Should he allow even his foot soldiers, supporters at grassroots level, to be arrested for political crimes, then confidence in the supremacy of ZANU PF will crumble and he may well lose those very same activists because they will realise he no longer has the power to shield them.

This, ZANU PF is determined not to allow. Hence the offer on Monday for the charges against all imprisoned people to be dropped in return for clearing all charges for people who committed political crimes since 1980.

Chinamasa made the offer unashamedly and in a full meeting of the JOMIC monitoring committee.

This should tell us something very important. ZANU PF still consider themselves in charge of all the legal and judiciary systems in Zimbabwe. They consider themselves to be negotiating from a position of power. Whether the MDC agrees to play ball or not, the way ZANU PF does things will not change.

The Generals, meantime, are in uncompromising mood and say that whatever deal Chinamasa and his JOMIC come up with will not apply to them. They will never allow an MDC government, full stop. (They don't consider the current government an MDC one, and rightly say that ZANU PF is still in charge and the MDC are only supposed to reverse the damage wrought by sanctions before they are kicked out into the cold). One of them, the very first to state publicly in March that he will not salute Tsvangirai said again at the weekend that he is not afraid of The Hague.

Ominously, he said for him, it was better to die in the process of killing "mutengesi", meaning Tsvangirai, than to have to be given "forgiveness" by the Prime Minister or even the President.

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At the same time, it is now clear that Britain has no intention of helping Morgan Tsvangirai in his new role. The British have now announced publicly here in Zimbabwe that they are offering their citizens, especially the older ones resident in Zimbabwe, free transport, a house and benefits (including lifetime free medical treatment through the British NHS) if they leave Zimbabwe.

The British Embassy in Zimbabwe confirms that "several hundred" British citizens in Zimbabwe have already recieved their offer letters.

What this tells us is Britain has decided that, since Tsvangirai is now with Mugabe, there is no hope for Zimbabwe. The British do not see this country reovering. In fact, in their letter to their citizens here, seen by a Dutch news ageny, they actually state that "the situation in Zimbabwe is bound to get worse."

The British resident in Zimbabwe are being advised to leave now because, in the words of the document quoted by the Dutch news agency: they "may find it difficult to leave at short notice."

All it means really is that Britain has given up on Zimbabwe.

We are set for some interesting times ahead.

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