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Opposition MP arrested in Zimbabwe over alleged treason

Sikhala was “formally charged with attempting to overthrow the government unconstitutionally”

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Opposition MP arrested in Zimbabwe over alleged treason
Zimbabwean lawmaker and vice-chairman of the opposition MDC party, Job Sikhala. (File photo)

Zimbabwean lawmaker, Job Sikhala, vice-chairman of the opposition MDC party, was arrested and charged with treason on Tuesday for allegedly saying he wanted to oust the president.

Sikhala was “formally charged with attempting to overthrow the government unconstitutionally,” his lawyer Obey Shava told reporters, saying his client denied the charges.

Some Zimbabweans hoped the fall of long-time autocrat Robert Mugabe in 2017 would usher in a more tolerant climate as President Emmerson Mnangagwa sought to attract foreign investment.

But government critics have been frequently targeted by the police and security forces as the country’s economy tips into crisis.

Sikhala, an outspoken senior official in the Movement for Democratic Change party, allegedly said in a speech at a rally on Saturday that the party would unseat Mnangagwa before the next election.

“We are going to overthrow him (Mnangagwa) before 2023 — that is not a joke,” Sikhala was quoted as saying.

He faces a maximum 20 years in prison if convicted of treason.

The ZANU-PF government reacted furiously to Sikhala’s remarks, with spokesman Nick Mangwana describing the speech as an “insurgent rant”.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) group said that Sikhala was 21st person to be arrested and charged with treason since January.

Seven rights campaigners were arrested at Harare airport last month and charged with subversion on their arrival from the Maldives, where police allege they attended a workshop on how to topple the government.

Misconstrued statement –

After protests in January, triggered by a doubling of fuel prices, Mnangagwa warned that the authorities would target rights groups deemed to be anti-government.

The authorities blamed the protests on the MDC party and non-governmental organisations that they said were backed by Western nations.

Zimbabwe’s police and army have often used brutal force, including live ammunition, to crush dissent.

Mnangagwa had promised a fresh start for Zimbabwe after decades of repression, international isolation and economic decline under Mugabe.

The MDC said Sikhala’s remarks had been misconstrued and that the party pursued only peaceful and democratic means to solve Zimbabwe’s “national crisis”.

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Southern Africa Politics

Zimbabwean police fire tear gas to dispel opposition protesters

Police fire tear gas and beat opposition party’s protesters demonstrating against police brutality

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Zimbabwean protesters defy ban on rally amidst harsh police suppression
A protester holds a copy of the Constitution of Zimbabwe during a demonstration and clashes with the police in Harare on August 16, 2019. - Riot police in Zimbabwe fire teargas and beat demonstrators on August 16 during a crackdown on opposition supporters who have taken to Harare's streets despite a protest ban. (Photo by Zinyange Auntony / AFP)

Riot police in Zimbabwe fired teargas and beat demonstrators on Friday during a crackdown on opposition supporters who have taken to Harare’s streets despite a protest ban.

Scores of people gathered in the capital’s Africa Unity Square to demonstrate against the country’s worsening economy in defiance of the ban, which was upheld by a court on Friday.

Supporters of Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) sang songs condemning police brutality as officers fired teargas to disperse them.

Police also cornered a group of protesters and beat them with batons, with one woman carried into a Red Cross ambulance.

“People were just singing, people were happy, peacefully. Then they saw the police coming — they were encircling people, they were actually surrounding the supporters then they came closer to us and started beating people,” a 35-year-old protester who gave her name as Achise told reporters. 

She also claimed the police beat “an old woman, I heard she was seriously injured.”

“This is worse than during colonial times,” said a man who declined to be identified. “We aren’t armed but the police just beat us while we were sitting on the street”.

‘Long-suffering people’ –

Dozens of police and three water cannons were involved in running street battles with protesters in the square, which overlooks the country’s parliament and is where thousands gathered in November 2017 calling for then-President Robert Mugabe to step down during a military-led coup.

Friday’s protests went ahead after opposition plans for large-scale marches were banned by police late Thursday.

An MDC attempt to challenge the ban in court was then rejected.

Zimbabwean police fire tear gas to dispel opposition protesters
A protester is beaten on the ground by police near Unity Square in Harare on August 16, 2019. (Photo by Zinyange Auntony / AFP)

“The court has said the demonstration should be off,” MDC spokesman Nkululeko Sibanda told reporters.

The party’s Vice President Tendai Biti told reporters outside the high court that “we differ respectfully with the ruling”.

“The fascist regime has denied the right for Zimbabweans to demonstrate,” said Biti.

“There is no difference between (President Emmerson) Mnangagwa and Mugabe. We jumped from the frying pan into the fire after the November coup,” Biti told reporters outside the court. 

Mnangagwa took over as President from long-time autocrat Mugabe and went on to win disputed July 2018 elections, vowing to revive Zimbabwe’s economy.

But Zimbabweans say things have gone from bad to worse, with people facing shortages of basic goods and skyrocketing prices.

Five million face ‘starvation’ –

Around five million people — almost a third of the country’s 16 million population — are in need of aid and at least half of them are on the cusp of “starvation”, the World Food Programme (WFP) said this month.

Armed police had put up barricades across the city early Friday in a bid to deter protesters, turning back cars on streets leading to the MDC’s party headquarters.

Long queues of traffic formed as the police searched cars and commuter buses for weapons. Riot police also searched pedestrians. 

The government, through the Information Ministry’s Twitter account, described the attacks on protesters as “a few skirmishes” adding that “normalcy has returned to Harare”. 

“Security remains on high alert and deployed to ensure safety of the citizenry and security of property,” it said.

Local rights group, Heal Zimbabwe said in a series of tweets that police had rounded up scores of people in several of the city’s townships and surrounding neighbourhoods.

At least six opposition and rights activists were abducted and tortured by unidentified assailants in the days leading up to the protest, according to the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum, a coalition of 21 human rights groups.

Another MDC spokesman, Daniel Molokele vowed;

“We are not backing down, we are going forward, the people of Zimbabwe are tired, they are fed up they want to end this long suffering so we are proceeding with the marches for a free Zimbabwe.”

Friday’s protests are the first since rallies in January against Mnangagwa’s decision to hike fuel prices that ended in deadly clashes with troops. 

At least 17 people were killed and scores wounded after the army used force, including live ammunition, to end the demonstrations.

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Campaign against corruption begins in Zambia

We can’t have few people that are getting rich and the majority are poor. – Laura Miti

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Campaign against corruption in government begins in Zambia

Hundreds of people wearing yellow T-shirts rallied on Saturday in Zambia’s capital Lusaka – to kick start a campaign against corruption in President Edgar Lungu’s government.

The protesters – led by prominent anti-graft activists Laura Miti and musician Pilato (also known as Chama Fumba) – picketed outside the parliament, singing anti-government songs and waving yellow cards.

“This is just the beginning of our yellow card campaigns,” Miti, who is the leader of a non-profit organisation Alliance for Community Action, told the jubilant crowd.

“We will not accept the country to be destroyed while we watch. 

“We can’t have few people that are getting rich and the majority are poor. This country is rich but the problem is how it is governed,”  she said.

She claimed that some ministers owned more than 40 houses each while most Zambians live in squalor. 

Demonstrators carried placards denouncing poor standards of education and plans to reintroduce deputy ministerial posts through a constitutional amendment.

“We are saying to (president) Lungu we are tired,” said Miti.

Both Miti and Pilato were arrested last year for picketing outside parliament over the procurement of 42 fire engines at a cost of $1 million each, seen as emblematic of the corruption fostered by Lungu.

During the protest on Saturday, Pilato warned: “if we refuse to defend Zambia today, there won’t be Zambia tomorrow”.

Lungu became president in 2015 after the death of President Michael Sata and was re-elected in 2016, but his administration has been dogged by accusations of graft.

In January 2018, foreign affairs minister Harry Kalaba resigned in protest, citing “swelling” corruption in government ranks “perpetrated by those who are expected to be the solution.”

The former minister for social services, Emerine Kabanshi, is due in court next month for corruption charges over allegations that led Britain to suspend aid to Zambia last year.

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Former South African President Zuma withdraws from graft inquiry

The ex-president was due to give the last of his evidence on Friday but had complained

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Former South African President Zuma withdraws from graft inquiry
Former South African president Jacob Zuma. (Photo by MIKE HUTCHINGS / POOL / AFP)

Former South African president Jacob Zuma on Friday withdrew from testifying to an inquiry into corruption during his rule, complaining of bias, before later agreeing to return at a future date.

In the corruption scandal popularly referred to as “state capture”, Zuma is alleged to have overseen mass looting of state assets during his nine-year tenure.

Zuma on Friday morning pulled out of the inquiry, with his legal team saying their client would no longer participate as he had been “treated as someone who was accused.”

But after behind-the-scenes discussions, deputy chief justice Raymond Zondo, who is chairing the investigation, announced an agreement had been reached between parties.

“The former president will come back at another time that will be arranged,” Zondo announced. “The discussions have resulted in an agreement.”

Zuma said he was “happy” that a compromise had been reached.

READ: Zuma to testify at South Africa’s graft probe

“No one should have a wrong impression that the raising of the concerns was just done in order to disrupt the processes, these were genuine concerns,” he added.

The ex-president was due to give the last of his evidence on Friday but had complained that earlier questioning was effectively a court cross-examination.

Zuma had dismissed all accusations made against him by previous witnesses to the inquiry.

He replied to many questions at the inquiry by saying he did not remember or was unaware of meetings and conversations that other witnesses had mentioned.

Possible prosecutions –

On Monday, the first day of his testimony, Zuma gave a rambling address saying he was the victim of conspiracies and years of “character assassination”, and accusing foreign intelligence agencies and spies of working against him.

He also said he had received multiple death threats and attempts on his life.

Zuma, 77, was ousted by the ruling ANC party in 2018 and replaced by his deputy, Cyril Ramaphosa, who has vowed to clean up the government.

He was not legally summoned to attend the inquiry, but was invited to reply after being implicated in graft by several previous witnesses.

The inquiry is investigating a web of deals involving government officials, the wealthy Gupta business family and state-owned companies.

READ: Ex-South African President Jacob Zuma claims he has been vilified

The Indian-born Gupta brothers — Ajay, Atul and Rajesh — have left South Africa and are now based in Dubai.

One witness, former finance minister Nhlanhla Nene testified that Zuma pushed policies on nuclear power and aviation that were designed to benefit the Gupta family.

“Mr. Zuma and his legal team are in effect asking to be excused from the application of the rules,” the inquiry’s lead lawyer Paul Pretorius said.

“If the questions are detailed and if the questions are difficult… so be it.

“We are not only entitled, but obliged to ask those questions.”

Zuma was forced to set up the commission in January 2018, shortly before he left office, after failing in a legal battle to overturn the instructions of the country’s ethics ombudsman.

It has been holding hearings since last year and is due to complete a report next year that may lead to criminal prosecutions.

Zuma has also been charged with 16 counts of graft linked to a 1990’s arms deal made before he became president.

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