March 14, 2007


Arrests Energize Zimbabwe Opposition: Leader of Fractured Movement Finds Stature Boosted Following Beating (Craig Timberg, 3/14/07, Washington Post)

Two harrowing days in police custody have left Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai with serious physical injuries but also renewed standing as head of an anti-government movement that is showing more energy than it has in years.

Tsvangirai's failure to mount protests after several tainted elections had fueled criticism that he lacked the strategic savvy -- and perhaps even the physical courage -- to lead a final push against President Robert Mugabe. As recently as Friday, speaking before journalists in Johannesburg, Tsvangirai played down the need for demonstrations, saying: "Going in the streets is only one of the strategies. . . . A struggle has various stages."

Yet two days later, police arrested Tsvangirai, 55, for attending a political rally in defiance of a ban on such gatherings. Though organizers portrayed the event as a prayer meeting in an attempt to sidestep the ban, it in fact marked the launch of an ambitious new "Save Zimbabwe" campaign, bringing together most major elements of an opposition that had splintered badly in 2005.

"If they ever wanted to boost Morgan Tsvangirai's popularity, they've done it," said David Coltart, an opposition lawmaker who is not aligned with Tsvangirai, speaking from Helsinki, where he was observing an election. "Whether Morgan intended this or not, this thing has been thrust upon him, and probably emboldened him."

Zimbabwe's Mandela?: Dictator Robert Mugabe may weaken his regime by cracking down on Morgan Tsvangirai. (LA Times, March 14, 2007)
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI is not a household name in the United States, but he stands a chance of becoming for Zimbabwe what Nelson Mandela was for South Africa -- especially if his country's ruling regime persists in its self-destructive attempts to crush him.

Tsvangirai, 55, was badly beaten by police Sunday during a "prayer meeting" in a suburb of Harare, the nation's capital. Tsvangirai probably wasn't doing a lot of praying; political rallies are illegal in Zimbabwe, so opposition leaders gathered at a legally permissible religious event. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe exercises total control over the media and has made criticizing the government a crime.

Until recently, Tsvangirai had been fading from the political scene. A labor leader who quit school as a teenager to provide for his family, Tsvangirai in 1999 created the country's opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change. Yet the party's shaky coalition split apart in 2005, and Tsvangirai spent 2006 largely on the sidelines. That changed in December, when the ruling party prompted widespread outrage by saying it would seek to extend the 83-year-old Mugabe's term, which expires in 2008. The arrests Sunday of Tsvangirai and the leader of the MDC's breakaway faction, Arthur Mutambara -- who also appeared at the rally -- signaled that the opposition is reunifying.

Dictator's final fight may come from within (David Blair, 14/03/2007, Daily Telegraph)
At long last, President Robert Mugabe's stranglehold on Zimbabwe may be loosening. Throughout his 27 years of dominance, the old dictator's opponents have always risked assault, torture or worse.

The bludgeoning meted out to Morgan Tsvangirai, the opposition leader, and about 100 of his supporters after they tried to hold a prayer meeting on Sunday, was entirely standard.

Violence of this kind has been enough to suppress Mr Mugabe's critics outside the ruling Zanu-PF party. Meanwhile, his skilful manipulation of factions within the ruling party has always thwarted any internal challenge.

But there are growing signs that Mr Mugabe is finally losing his grip. Never in its 44 year history has Zanu-PF been as divided as it is today. Mr Mugabe appears to be in a state of open warfare with both his party's main factions.

An authoritarian/totalitarian who lacks the faith in his regime to simply murder his opponents, or who fears the consequences, has lost.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 14, 2007 8:38 AM
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