For all the apparent unity demonstrated by Zanu PF when Bennett was sent to prison, in fact deep divisions within it were soon to emerge.
The death of Vice-President Simon Muzenda in September 2003 had sparked a vigorous contest within the party, splitting into two camps around Emmerson Mnangagwa and former Zanla commander Solomon Mujuru, for a replacement. In the course of 2004, the Mnangagwa faction developed and reached agreement around four principles, which would later become known as the “Tsholotsho Declaration”, namely that:
l there should be ethnic and regional balance in the party’s four top leadership positions;
l the office of president and first secretary should not be reserved for one ethnic group, but should rotate among Zimbabwe’s major ethnic groups;
l that these top positions should not be imposed, but elected; and
l that the party’s constitution and the rule of law within the party should be respected.
Behind these “principles” was a concern that one ethnic group, the Zezurus, dominated all the top leadership positions within Zanu PF and government. Mugabe, Vice-President Msika, the chief justice, the commissioner of police, and the commander of the armed forces were all Zezuru.
Other ethnic groups, particularly Mnangagwa’s Karanga ethnic group, felt that this should end and the principles provided a means of achieving that goal.
Mnangagwa, as Zanu PF secretary for administration, was in a key position to promote the principles.
He also stood to benefit enormously if the principles were adopted as he would become vice-president.
A series of meetings were held countrywide, culminating in a meeting on August 30 in which eight of the 10 provincial chairmen indicated that they would “vote in favour of the principles”.
Having secured the support of a majority of provincial chairmen, Mnangagwa wrote a letter to party structures on November 11, detailing nomination procedures for any of the top four positions which was due to be held at Zanu PF’s December congress.
Solomon Mujuru’s faction, having got wind of a meeting of Mnangagwa’s supporters in Tsholotsho on November 18, through John Nkomo and Nicholas Goche, persuaded Mugabe to call an emergency politburo meeting the same day, which amended the party’s constitution to mandate that at least one of the vice-presidents should be a woman.
The amendment effectively scuppered Mnangagwa’s hopes of becoming vice-president.
The politburo meeting also prevented Mnangagwa from attending the event planned in Tsholotsho, but on the evening of November 18, an informal meeting was convened.
Those who attended included Moyo, Chinamasa and six provincial chairmen.
That meeting resolved that Joice Mujuru’s candidacy for the vacant vice-president slot would be opposed.
In addition it was agreed that they would retain Mugabe as president, but nominate Mnangagwa for the other vice-president slot instead of the incumbent Msika.
Finally, Chinamasa would be proposed as party chairman.
Mugabe and the Mujuru faction, however, thwarted these plans.
When the December congress was held the Mnangagwa faction was sidelined; Mugabe and Msika held their positions and were joined by Joice Mujuru and John Nkomo as vice-president and chairman respectively.
Jonathan Moyo, in a series of articles published after the congress, vented his anger against Mugabe.
His final article had a deadly sting in the tail. He concluded that “the current political and economic problems facing Zimbabwe (were) due to the fact that the country (was) being ruled by a hopelessly clueless, tired and terrified undemocratic clique which desperately (wanted) to cling to power by fair means or foul at the clear expense of national interest”.
Moyo was subsequently expelled from Zanu PF and Mnangagwa demoted to the lowly position of Minister of Rural Housing.
Moyo’s article also mentioned the “collapse of the economy with inflation of 913,6% galloping towards 1 000%”, which was a fair assessment.
By the end of 2004 the nation was in an extreme crisis.
In a report published at the year end, it was estimated that there was 70% unemployment, 80% of people were living below the poverty line, 27% of adults were HIV positive, key industries had contracted between 40 and 60% and 25% of Zimbabwe’s population (some 3,4 million people) had gone into economic or political exile.
Despite this, Zanu PF kept digging in.
The last few parliamentary sessions of 2004 were dominated by further draconian legislation.
Although we fought long into the night, on one occasion pushing debate until 5:45 am, Zanu PF pushed through measures to control NGOs and tighten its control over the electoral process.
In the early hours of November 17, I said what “a great honour it was to stand here at 4:05am to oppose the (NGO) Bill.” Our opposition was “symbolic of a non-violent struggle against fascism”, exemplified in a bill that was “fascist in its content and application”.
My last formal engagement that year before taking a Christmas break in Malawi was to attend an MDC national executive meeting in Harare.
It was the first one since Tsvangirai’s acquittal and to that extent should have been joyful, but was not.
Rather the simmering tensions created by Guhu’s assault had escalated.
In October, Ncube had found the situation so intolerable at Harvest House that he moved the administration department to offices in the same building as his legal chambers.
When the underlying friction erupted into an acrimonious debate I felt constrained to speak.
I reminded the meeting that we had endured five years of oppression, that tension was inevitable, that agents provocateurs were having a field day.
We needed to remember where we had come from, I said, and what we had achieved.
Tsvangirai and Sibanda were sitting together at the other end of the table from where I was sitting.
I engaged them both, saying “the two of you are the heart of the party; if you stick together, the rest of us will find that there is no oxygen outside your combined orbit; our ability to keep the party together depends on your partnership”.
On my way back from Malawi on January 5 2005, I stopped in at Mutoko prison to see Roy Bennett. Although by no stretch of imagination pleasant, the prison was more like a heavily guarded school than the sombre grey edifices of Khami and Chikurubi prisons.
My arrival, unannounced, caused quite a stir among the officers.
I was neither family nor Bennett’s stated legal representative.
Despite explaining that I was MDC secretary for Legal Affairs, and ultimately responsible for Bennett’s defence, the officer in charge was too scared to allow me in.
A few hurried phone calls, presumably to Prison HQ, resulted in a firm refusal.
Fortunately, the prison was so small that word got back to Bennett that I had visited.
Legal proceedings had been instituted in the High Court to review Parliament’s decision but failed.
Determined to use every possible means to correct the injustice, we instructed Jeremy Gauntlett to take Bennett’s case to the Supreme Court, but that too was delayed.
And so Bennett remained in prison.
Although the general election was only due in June 2005, Mugabe suddenly announced on February 1 that the election would be held on March 31.
The previous August Sadc summit had agreed on new electoral principles, which included “equal opportunity for all political parties to access the state media”, “impartiality of electoral institutions”, and “an accessible voters’ roll”.
Optimistically, we had hoped that Mugabe’s peers would encourage him to bring our electoral environment in line with these fundamental principles, but the new Electoral Act gazetted on January 21 and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission Act were just a disingenuous attempt at compliance. In reality all the electoral bodies were appointed by Mugabe. New laws effectively banned NGOs from conducting voter education.
The registrar-general persisted in refusing us access to an electronic copy of the voters’ roll and demanded Z$12 million for an unsearchable paper copy of the roll.