THE Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDC yesterday confronted the ruling Zanu PF for the first time over its charges of banditry, raising political tensions between the two parties currently in faltering talks to form an all-inclusive government.
The confrontation, which took place in parliament, has put the ball firmly in Zanu PF’s court to prove its claims which have drawn in Sadc countries, in particular Botswana which has been accused of providing the MDC-T with military training and logistical support.
The MDC move came hard on the heels of remarks by South African President Kgalema Motlanthe on Wednesday dismissing Zimbabwe’s allegations that Botswana was drilling MDC-T insurgents to oust President Robert Mugabe from power. He said he didn’t believe it.
In a parliamentary motion yesterday, the MDC went head to head with Zanu PF over the issue and urged the House of Assembly to condemn claims of banditry as “unfounded, irresponsible and reprehensible”.
Moving the motion, MDC-T MP for Lobengula-Magwegwe, Siphepha Nkomo, described the Zanu PF allegations as a “falsehood” which could lead to unnecessary “bloodshed”.
“Aware of Zanu PF’s history of plotting, conspiracy and counter-conspiracy, disturbed by the attempt to create a falsehood that the MDC is behind the case of banditry, aware of the attempt to create conditions to justify a crackdown on the people of Zimbabwe and state of emergency, concerned with the unwarranted and unjustified attacks on the sovereign and independent state of Botswana by Zanu PF,” Nkomo said, “we now call this House to condemn efforts to create an artificial atmosphere of conflict, attrition, bloodshed and intolerance among the peace-loving people of Zimbabwe and also condemn attacks on Botswana.”
Motlanthe, the Sadc chairperson, said the regional bloc did not believe allegations by Zimbabwe that Botswana was training the youths.
Motlanthe told journalists at his Union Buildings office in Pretoria on Wednesday that Zimbabwe’s allegations lacked substance.
Relations between Harare and Gaborone have been sour for several years but took a dangerous twist last month when Zimbabwe first raised the allegations.
“We do not believe that (allegation about insurgents). We do not think there is any substance to the allegation,” Motlanthe said. “But of course the Zimbabwean authorities would cite an explosion at a police station and that kind of stuff to actually claim that the government of Botswana could train the MDC cadres – it’s against the Sadc principles, that is why we really take it with a pinch of salt.”
Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa had earlier this week claimed that the government had gathered “compelling evidence” that Botswana and the MDC-T were plotting war on Mugabe.
The government also attempted to link the shooting of Zimbabwe Airforce commander Perrance Shiri by unknown gunmen to the alleged plot to effect illegal regime change in Zimbabwe.
Motlanthe said Sadc decided to probe the banditry allegations because they were made by a member state.
He said: “But of course because the allegation was made officially, that is why it had to be investigated but I have no doubt that it will come to naught.”
Motlanthe said it did not make sense that the MDC-T, which is properly registered and has participated in several elections, could now choose war to gain political power.
“It (MDC-T) is represented in parliament …there would really be no logic in that at this late hour they are planning for a military option. There is an army in Zimbabwe which cannot be confronted with people who are trained over weekends,” said the South African leader.
A probe team headed by the principal secretary in Swaziland’s Ministry of Defence, John Kunene,Â was expected in Botswana yesterday to search for military camps where Zimbabwe alleges youths from the MDC-T were being trained.
Kunene is expected to submit a report on his mission to the interstate defence and security committee of Sadc’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security.
Botswana and the MDC-T have denied training bandits to fight Mugabe, with the opposition’s secretary-general Tendai Biti saying the allegations were a ploy by Mugabe to justify declaring a state of emergency.
“We have no doubt as a party that they (government) are going to declare a state of emergency,” Biti told journalists in Harare on Monday. “As a matter of fact we are not training bandits.”
He added: “In fact the MDC is a de facto government of the day. We control parliament, the chairman of the MDC, Lovemore Moyo is the speaker of parliament and the president of the MDC is the prime minister-designate.
“So how does the MDC, which is controlling government want to destroy that?” he said.
Biti said the MDC-T would pursue “constitutional, peaceful and democratic means to bring change”.
Last week, the Zimbabwe government claimed that Botswana had refused to send a team to Harare to get the evidence of its involvement in training bandits, but Gaborone denied ever being invited.
Botswana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Phandu Skelemani, said the country was not aware of an invitation extended to it by Zimbabwe to see the evidence.
Skelemani said: “What invitation? To go to Harare to do what? In the first place, the terms of reference of the investigating team spell out clearly where the investigations should be conducted.
They ought to be conducted in Gaborone where, in the wild dreams of the Zimbabwean authorities, there are camps where MDC-T cadres are receiving training.”
He said Zimbabwe had failed to produce the evidence.
“On the other hand we insisted that the investigating work should start here as Botswana is the place where we are supposed to be training MDC-T cadres. There was never an agreement that the team should visit Zimbabwe,” said Skelemani.
Motlanthe also disclosed that Sadc had put in place a new mechanism for delivering urgent humanitarian aid to crisis-hit Zimbabwe.
Motlanthe said financial and material aid would be channelled through a new structure called the Zimbabwe Humanitarian and Development Assistance Framework once an inclusive government is formed.
The framework, a non-partisan agency, would comprise government, non-profit organisations, religious leaders and agricultural unions.
Every member of the 15-nation grouping was expected to contribute to the effort “in accordance with (their) resources and capabilities”.
Motlanthe said Zanu PF and the two MDC formations were supportive of the initiative.
“President Mugabe accepts also that the situation is very dire and that the people of Zimbabwe need assistance to relieve them of the deprivation they’ve had to endure for some time,” Motlanthe said.
The severe cholera outbreak that has killed around 1 000 people since August had compounded an already bad situation characterised by serious food shortages, he said.
BY DUMISANI MULEYA AND CONSTANTINE CHIMAKURE