That Fateful Friday

It was with some apprehension that I drove into the center of Harare last Friday. The headlines in the Independent said it all - would Tsvangirai be found guilty and face the death penalty for treason?

I was almost alone in the MDC in thinking that he would not be found guilty. Everybody thought that the signs were not hopeful. In July when he was originally set down for judgement, we had information that the Judge - Mr. Justice Garwe, was going to find him guilty. The legal team thought that this would be very difficult to overturn. However the two elderly Assessors who had heard the case with Justice Garwe asked for the transcript of the case and time to review the facts before they would give their assent to the judgement. This gave rise to the delay of nearly 3 months until Friday the 15th October.

When I parked the car and walked through the streets to do a bit of business before the start of the Court hearing at 10.00 hrs. I felt the full impact of the tension in the city. It was palpable - the streets were crowded with people milling about in their thousands. MDC had called for them to come out throughout the country and they did - everywhere I went people stopped me and asked me what I thought would happen. Concern was shown on all their faces. Apprehension, I think best described the feeling.

Tendai and I walked up to the High Court - Tendai was carrying a draft Press Release for the Vice President which assumed that Morgan would be found guilty. A draft was not prepared for any other alternative. Tendai wore his full legal regalia and when we got to the Police cordon he was allowed through and I was turned away. I joined the crowds waiting in the distance and then met up with Peter and he said let's go to the rear of the Court and see what, if anything, is happening there. We walked past the Police cordon and at one point I was so incensed by the abuse of our right to support the President more closely, that I spoke out in public to a Police officer and said that this was why we needed change.

We then walked on but after a few yards I was grabbed from behind and force-marched over the road and up to the side entrance to the High Court. There, in front of a dozen other Police officers I was given a sound beating with rubber truncheons and a short wooden stick. When they thought that I had been taught a lesson, they pushed me into the service lane and told me "to go back to Britain". I assume because I was white! I walked out and rejoined Peter and we went and had some refreshments while we waited to hear what had happened in the Courtroom. I now know a little of what a Police beating involves - the bruises on my back are deep and painful.

At about 10.20 hrs. two MIG 23 jets (our entire operational airforce) flew overhead and buzzed the Courts on several occasions. The noise was deafening and it did little to reduce tensions. Outside the MDC offices (completely empty as staff felt they knew what was coming) there were armored vehicles, water cannon and riot Police with arms. On every street corner there were Police with batons and many with a nasty whip made from hard plastic. I thought, "if Morgan is found guilty, there will be hell to pay." Tendai remarked as the first jets flew over "they would not be doing this if Morgan was to be found not guilty."

At the same time as this was going on the German Charge d'Affairs was also manhandled and beaten by the Police at the Courts. He was standing in for his Ambassador who had not yet presented her credentials. The Australian Ambassador was also refused access, as were almost all who arrived at the Courts in time to hear the judgement. As you can imagine, the Germans are furious at the treatment of their senior diplomatic staff. Two MDC Harare City Councilors were also arrested outside the cordon and hauled off to the local police station.

Then came the judgement "not guilty". Well, the feeling of relief swept across the city and the country. Impromptu celebrations broke out and the police fired tear gas and beat up people just to make sure that "the happiness" did not get out of hand.

Afterwards there was a great deal of analysis - why did they find him not guilty? A member of our legal team felt that the assessors were the key. Judgement could not be made until they had agreed to the facts as established by the Court. When these were set out (as they are in the judgement) there was no way Morgan could be found guilty. The assessors were firm in their conviction that the facts did not support Garwe's initial judgement. My own feelings were that three months is a long time in politics and Mugabe has become so much more isolated in the region and in Africa during this time. I am also sure that the South Africans had a hand in the final outcome. Whatever the reasons, we are all delighted and now wait to see if they will release Morgan's passport. After all that is what this was all about - plus the cost to us of the trial (billions of dollars) and the time wasted.

While this was going on at the national level, things were not peaceful at the local level all over the country. The legal and physical campaign against MDC structures across the country continues. In Beitbridge the local District Executive held a routine meeting to elect a Chairman after the death of the incumbent a few weeks ago. No permission was sought from the Police and when the authorities were told about the meeting they arrested the leadership. After holding them for 48 hours without food they were taken to Court and charged under POSA. They were released on Z$200 000 bail each. Very tough conditions for whom are in many cases, just peasant farmers. The main thrust of the questions directed at those detained was, "what were you discussing? What plans were made?" Today, the Secretary was again arrested (while out on bail) and taken into custody for interrogation. We are being denied access. What they wanted were the minutes of the meeting. There can be only one reason for this - they want to know how the MDC intends to campaign in the District in advance of the March 2005 elections.

Had the MDC asked for permission under POSA, the Police would have had two plain clothes details at the meeting taking notes of everything that was said - and you can be sure that these would go straight to Zanu PF. In Bulawayo a Church leaders meeting was simply told - if you do not break up we have riot Police standing by and we will break up your meeting with force.

So much for the "rule of law" and "democracy" in Zimbabwe.

Eddie Cross Bulawayo
18th October 2004