Arrest of Zimbabwe’s energy minister fuels talk of a plot

2011-03-26 07:27

Harare – Zimbabwe’s energy minister was arrested yesterday for the second time this month, drawing accusations of a plot to whittle away at Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s majority in Parliament.

Elton Mangoma was arrested on his way to work and taken to court, where he was accused of irregularities in the decision to cancel a contract to buy electrical equipment.

Mangoma was last arrested on March 10 and charged with abuse of office over a fuel purchase from a South Africa company. He had been released on a $5 000 (R34 270) bail.

His lawyer, Selby Hwacha, said he was preparing a new bail application for next week, but accused police chief Augustine Chihuri of staging the arrest to prevent Mangoma from participating in a key parliamentary vote next week.

“This is the result of the direct interference by the police commissioner,” Hwacha said.

“It’s meant to defeat the minister’s participation in the parliamentary processes, which will take place any time from next week.”

Parliament is expected to vote next week on a new speaker, after the Supreme Court invalidated the election of Lovemore Moyo, a top ally to Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change won a parliamentary majority in 2008 elections, the first time that President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF didn’t control the legislature.

Tsvangirai won the first-round presidential vote in 2008 but pulled out of a run-off amid deadly attacks on his supporters.

The two-year-old unity government was meant to ease tensions, but with new elections expected later this year, the political climate is heating up again.

Theresa Makone, the MDC legislator who shares the post of home affairs ministry with a Zanu-PF counterpart, told AFP she had gone into hiding for fear of arrest.

“I have received credible information that I may be arrested. In Zimbabwe, you don’t take chances once you have received such information,” she said.

“This is a well-calculated move to reduce the MDC numbers in Parliament ahead of the vote for the speaker’s post,” she said.

Mangoma’s earlier arrest drew an angry reaction from Tsvangirai, who called for new elections and said it was time for a “divorce” in the unity government.

Mangoma’s arrest is the latest in a series of cases against legislators and activists who support Tsvangirai’s MDC amid rising political violence, especially in the countryside.

Mugabe has indicated that polls could be held this year.

But this week officials said a referendum on a new constitution, meant to pave the way for the elections, would not be held before September.

Tsvangirai has called on the Southern African Development Community, which brokered the unity accord, to lay out a “roadmap” to fresh elections.

The 15-nation bloc’s security organ is set to meet Thursday in Zambia to discuss the tensions in Zimbabwe.

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