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Zimbabwe Unity Cabinet Sworn Amid Concern Over Arrest Of MDC Official

  • Thomas Chiripasi

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Friday swore in the cabinet of a long-awaited unity government amid troubling indications that his ZANU-PF party and security apparatus which it continues to control may not have ceased to harass its supposed partner in the government, the Movement for Democratic Change founded by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.

The ceremonial swearing-in of ministers and deputy ministers was delayed for several hours as Mr. Mugabe, Mr. Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, worked out last minute hitches in their political arrangements. All three men were signatories to the power-sharing agreement concluded last Sept. 15 but months in the implementation.

More disturbing to Tsvangirai's MDC formation (Mutambara heads a smaller rival formation) was the report that party treasurer Roy Bennett, nominated deputy minister of agriculture, had been picked up by police at Charles Prince Airport outside Harare. Reports emerging later Friday suggested he had been taken to Mutare, close to his former Manicaland province constituency of Chimanimani, which he represented from 2000 to 2005.

Mr. Tsvangirai's party issued a statement later Friday saying Bennett was being charged with treason - a charge Mr. Tsvangirai himself faced in a 2004 trial in which he was acquitted - and called the accusations "scandalous, vexatious and without basis in law," Reuters reported. The party said Mutare police fired shots to break up a crowd demanding his release.

Bennett scuffled with Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa on the floor of the House in May 2004 during a debate on land reform when Chinamasa verbally abused him, calling his white ancestors "thieves and murderers." Bennett pushed Chinamasa to the floor, then was assaulted by another member, Didymus Mutasa, later security and land minister.

Bennett was later found guilty of contempt of parliament, then dominated by ZANU-PF, and served eight months of a 12-month sentence. When in 2006 Bennett was accused by state prosecutors of plotting to assassinate President Mugabe, he fled to South Africa where he obtained political asylum, returning only recently to take up his ministerial appointment.

Harare correspondent Thomas Chiripasi reported on the State House ministerial oaths.

President Mugabe named Emmerson Mnangwangwa, seen by many as a potential successor at the helm of ZANU-PF, to the Defense Ministry, retaining Kembo Mohadi as home affairs co-minister - Mohadi will share control of the ministry with the MDC's Giles Mutseekwa.

Simbarashe Mumbengegwi, Joseph Made and Patrick Chinamasa were retained in the Foreign Affairs, Agriculture and Justice ministries respectively.

Sidney Sekeramayi was assigned to the State Security Ministry and Webster Shamhu took charge of the Ministry of Information.

The swearing in of cabinet was delayed by several hours after deputy prime minister Mutambara asked for the appointment of a minister of state in his office.

Executive Secretary Tomaz Salamao of the Southern African Development Community said Mr. Mugabe turned down the request on grounds that making such an appointment would mean naming a minister of state in Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe’s office too.

Political analyst Pedzisai Ruhanya told reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that Bennett's arrest showed Mr. Mugabe has not changed.

More reports from VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe...

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