ZIMBABWE – The battle over who will succeed Zimbabwe’s controversial President Robert Mugabe took a new twist this week after the shock arrest of the country’s former attorney general (now the Prosecutor General).
Riot police were called in to escort Johannes Tomana to court to answer charges of obstructing justice in a “highly suspect” case against four people accused of plotting to bomb a dairy run by Mugabe’s wife, Grace.
No press were allowed at the hearing at Harare’s Magistrate’s Court but Tomana, currently the country’s chief procurator fiscal, appears to have been charged with defeating the course of justice and criminal abuse of office.
State media reported yesterday that the case against him was because of his refusal to prosecute men arrested last week over the alleged plot to destroy one of the country’s biggest dairies.
Run by the first lady, it was taken from white farmers during the land confiscations that began in 2000.
However the bomb plot allegations are “highly suspect” according to Dewa Mavhinga, Zimbabwe spokesman for Human Rights Watch
“Police and state security have increased harassment and arrests of people in the context of fights within Zanu-PF about who will take over from Mugabe,” he said.
WHY TARGET A DAIRY?
The four accused of the bomb plot are two civilians and two soldiers who, it is claimed, belong to a hitherto little known opposition party called the Zimbabwe People’s Front.
The so-called leader, 34-year-old Owen Kuchata, former intelligence officer Solomon Makumbe, 29, army corporal Borman Ngwenya and Silas Pfupa, 37, allegedly had the ingredients for Molotov cocktails to bomb the Alpha Omega Dairy, 20 miles west of Harare, in protest against the leadership of 91-year-old Mugabe.
“They accused Mugabe of causing suffering to Zimbabweans because of his alleged dictatorial leadership style,” the prosecution papers reportedly said.
Apparently arrested in a police trap, the four appeared in court last week and were remanded in custody, but charges against the two civilians were later dropped as it was reported they had agreed to give evidence against their co-accused.
Tomana was then arrested and appeared in court on Tuesday.
However the case against him is “very suspicious” according to Obert Gutu of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, who said he had never heard of the Zimbabwe People’s Front.
“This incident feels like a nasty, cooked-up story,” he said.
COULD THERE BE MORE TO THIS?
PREVIOUSLY seen as an ally to Mugabe, Tomana is believed to have displeased Mrs Mugabe after failing to extradite a South African businessman called Jack Ping. Mrs Mugabe was in a dispute with Ping over a Hong Kong flat where her daughter was staying. Both parties say they own the flat and the Zimbabwean government is now embroiled in an expensive legal case over the property.
Since falling out with Mrs Mugabe, Tomana has switched his allegiance to vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa and speculation is growing that this is behind his arrest.
On Tuesday he was released on bail of £700 but ordered to appear again in court later this month.
One faction of the Zanu-PF ruling party supports Mnangagwa to be Mugabe’s successor while the other wants his wife to stand as president or, failing that, to select the country’s next leader.
WHY IS MUGABE CONTROVERSIAL?
A pro-independence campaigner, Mugabe wrested power from the small white community and became Zimbabwe’s first black leader in 1980.
Formerly called Rhodesia after British colonist Cecil Rhodes, the country has a long history of conflict with white settlers dispossessing the resident population before guerilla armies finally forced agreement for elections from the white government which, under Ian Smith, had declared independence from the UK in 1965.
But Mugabe’s leadership has been marred from the beginning by atrocities against the Matabele people in the south of the country.
Up to 30,000 may have been slaughtered with thousands more tortured in detainment camps.
The campaign only ended in 1987 after Mugabe reached a unity agreement with opposition leader Joshua Nkomo to merge both their parties to create the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF). Despite winning 117 out of 120 seats in the 1990 elections, there were frequent demonstrations and strikes against the government’s policies.
The country was also hit by the AIDS pandemic and within a decade 25 per cent of the population became infected with the HIV virus.
WHAT ELSE HAS HE DONE?
In 2000 the government started its Fast Track Land Reform programme to confiscate land from the minority white population of 0.6 per cent which still held 70 per cent of the best agricultural ground.
A sharp decline in agricultural exports followed – which the dispossessed white community claimed were because of corruption and poor management by the new owners but which Mugabe put down to continuous droughts.
International sanctions imposed because of accusations of human rights abuses and mismanagement of the economy added to the misery.
By 2008 a major cholera outbreak and a crisis in living standards finally led to a power-sharing agreement with the Movement for Democratic Change and conditions for the people improved, but Mugabe was re-elected as president in 2013 amidst widespread allegations of vote-rigging.
Foreign investors may be able to help rejuvenate the ailing economy but are likely to stay away until it is clear who will succeed Mugabe.
Along with the internal power struggle within the ruling party, also vying for power is Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, who has survived frequent arrests and apparent assassination attempts in his frequent challenges to Mugabe.