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Zimbabwe’s fractured politics

Robert Mugabe prevents Morgan Tsvangirai from assuming power, and then asks why West doesn't give money.

 In addition, the state’s star witness has said he will not give evidence against Bennett when the charges are so obviously trumped up.

“These are people who are trying to hide behind politics to settle scores,” retorted Attorney-General Tomana, defending his stubborn determination to keep the charges against Bennett. “They are blaming me for being Zanu-PF. I have my allegiance to my religion as I have my allegiance to my party of choice.” And in an undisguised reference to the Bennett case he made the following declaration: “I am a public servant and I owe it to the people that those facing serious charges are not given the freedom to flee.”

Tomana is very useful to Mugabe. He has brought a number of prosecutions against MDC MPs in the eastern districts of the country on grounds of political violence last year while studiously ignoring cases involving Zanu-PF MPs who mounted a campaign of violence that saw an estimated 200 MDC supporters killed. This has whittled down the MDC’s majority in parliament so the two main parties are nearly neck and neck at 97 and 95 seats. But Mugabe has obviously calculated that having MDC MPs lose their seats on the basis of spurious charges is more politically cost-effective than terrorizing their constituents.

The MDC charges that Mugabe is in breach of last September’s power sharing agreement by appointing Tomana without consulting his partners in government. Mugabe says he is under no obligation to do so.

Tsvangirai’s frustration over public perceptions that he is a captive in Mugabe’s tightly controlled political domain has led him to publish a newsletter from the prime minister’s office that is distributed free, much to the consternation of Mugabe’s officials. But this has not compensated for the daily torrent of hostility towards the MDC and civil society in the government press. There is no sign that the public media, which includes a stable of daily and Sunday publications and the country’s only broadcaster, is about to change its stance. Indeed, the more Mugabe is perceived as losing what little popularity he has left, the more he needs a partisan press.

The government has agreed to allow the BBC and CNN back into the country, claiming disingenuously the two networks were not banned in the first place. The Ministry of Home Affairs is meanwhile considering lifting prohibition orders against foreign correspondents evicted from the country over the past seven years. There is a consensus in media and government circles that the hated Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bill, the scourge of journalists since 2002, is likely to be repealed, or at least significantly amended.

A free media would be a giant leap for Zimbabweans not least because, with a new constitution in the making, the public would be able to make an informed choice at the ballot box.

More GlobalPost dispatches from Zimbabwe:

Western envoys tough with Mugabe

Zimbabwe's elderly whites return to Britain 

Zimbabwe's split personality

Mugabe is still the boss

Harare rocks with cultural festival