The swearing-in on Friday of Zimbabwe’s new unity government was marred by the arrest of a top aide to Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, whose party said he was then charged with treason.
Roy Bennett, who returned last month from three years of self-imposed exile in South Africa — where he had fled to escape charges of plotting to kill Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe — was arrested at a Harare airport, Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change said.
Bennett was later taken to the eastern city of Mutare where the MDC said he was charged with treason.
“Police have again changed charges on Roy Bennett. They have now charged him with treason,” the MDC statement said. “These charges are scandalous, vexatious and without bases in law, but are simply politically motivated, simply intended to justify the continued incarceration of Roy Bennett.”
Bennett’s lawyer, Trust Maanda, said the “police have orally told him of his treason charges.”
“He was told of the treason charges but the police will formalize the charge documents tomorrow. His case is likely to come up in court either Monday or Tuesday,” he told reporters from the Mutare police station where he said the politician would spend the weekend.
“The police fired shots in the air to disperse the crowd of MDC supporters asking for Bennett’s release,” he said, confirming an earlier statement by the MDC.
Despite the arrest of Bennett, a white farmer who became treasurer of the MDC and was designated to become deputy agriculture minister, Mugabe said he was committed to the new government.
“When I say I am committed I mean it. When I say I want to work with you sincerely and honestly, I mean it,” Mugabe said in a speech after presiding over the swearing-in ceremony.
“The people will expect a lot from us. Let’s never let them down. It should never be forgotten that the suffering of our people is our suffering. Our failure hurts them and our success yields benefits to them,” he said.
The MDC’s chief whip in parliament, Innocent Gonese, described Bennett’s arrest as “very disturbing.”
“I don’t understand the rationale. It undermines confidence in the all-inclusive government,” Gonese said.
The swearing-in had already been held up by more than two hours as the MDC accused Mugabe of trying to bring 22 ministers into Cabinet, although their agreement allowed his ZANU-PF party only 15 seats.
In the end, Mugabe swore in two extra ministers, while the MDC took one more seat than expected.
Tsvangirai’s party in a statement blamed the development on “backstage chaos and confusion” within ZANU-PF.
Mugabe gave some of his party’s staunchest hardliners the key posts of defense, home affairs and national security.
The defense portfolio went to Emmerson Mnangagwa, seen as the president’s right-hand man, who earned notoriety as the head of state security in the 1980s, when a North Korean-trained army brigade allegedly massacred up to 20,000 suspected dissidents from the minority Ndebele people.
Sydney Sekeramayi, who was defense minister in the last Cabinet, took up the state security post.
Kembo Mohadi retained his position at home affairs, a portfolio he will share with a co-minister from Tsvangirai’s party.
At home affairs, Mohadi has presided over the police during a period that saw widespread accusations against the force of rights abuses and intimidation of the MDC.