Zimbabwean police detained four aides of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai a day after the nation held a referendum on a new constitution that was described as peaceful by observers from the U.S. and a regional bloc.
Thabani Mpofu, director of research in Tsvangirai’s office, and party officials Warship Dumba, Felix Manditse and Annan Muzvidziwa were picked up by police yesterday. Beatrice Mtetwa, a lawyer who was at the scene of the arrests, was also detained. Tsvangirai’s staff are due to appear in court today, his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, said in an e-mailed statement.
Police spokeswoman Charity Charamba told reporters in Harare, the capital, yesterday that MDC members were arrested for “impersonating police investigators” and Mtetwa was detained for obstructing the course of justice.
Zimbabweans are set to endorse the new constitution after Tsvangirai and his political rival, President Robert Mugabe, campaigned for a yes vote, paving the way for elections to take place later this year. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front have shared power since 2009 following a disputed election that international observers say was marred by violence.
The political impasse has stalled economic progress in a nation that holds the world’s biggest platinum and chrome deposits after South Africa and also has reserves of coal, diamonds and gold.
Tsvangirai said today officials detained by police haven’t yet been charged and Mtetwa was being held even though a High Court ordered her release.
“The targeting of my office is reprehensible and is meant to harass and intimidate the nation ahead of the election, now that we are done with the referendum,” Tsvangirai said in an e-mailed statement. “We certainly can’t have a police force that arrests people with impunity and then fails to charge them.”
He called on the 15-nation Southern African Development Community, which brokered the political agreement that led to Zimbabwe’s coalition government, to hold an urgent summit to set ground rules for the election.
SADC said today voting was conducted peacefully yesterday with no notable incidents of violence.
The observer team from the SADC Parliamentary Forum is “of the view the referendum was a credible representation of the will of the people,” Guduza Dlamini, head of the mission, told reporters in Harare.
The U.S. had five observer teams monitoring voting at more than 40 polling stations countrywide, the U.S. embassy said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. While the vote was “peaceful, credible,” the embassy said it was concerned by reports of interference with some voters and that accreditation of observers was limited.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission may begin releasing provisional results from the referendum today, spokesman Shupikai Mashereni said in a phone interview today. About 2 million voters went to the polls out of a registered 5.9 million, according to the commission.
The new constitution restricts the president to two five-year terms and requires a two-thirds vote by members of parliament to approve a state of emergency. It also guarantees Zimbabweans freedom from torture or degrading treatment and bans detention without trial, while security forces are barred from being members of a political party or group.
Mugabe, 89, who’s ruled the southern African nation since independence from the U.K. 33 years ago, isn’t barred from contesting elections as the presidential term limits aren’t retroactive. Western nations and international human-rights groups have accused Mugabe of rigging elections since 2000 and brutalizing his opponents to cling to power.
ZANU-PF’s program of land seizures from white farmers in 2000 plunged the economy into a decade-long recession, slashing exports of tobacco, once Zimbabwe’s biggest export, and turning the country into an importer of its staple food, corn.
Mugabe is now targeting mining companies, forcing companies including Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. to cede 51 percent of its unit, Zimplats Holdings Ltd., to the state and black Zimbabweans under an indigenization law passed in 2007.