Zimbabwean police on Thursday raided the central Harare headquarters of the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and arrested several party activists and employees.
The raid on the Harvest House office building followed street clashes on Wednesday between the police and informal vendors. Police said they were following up on those clashes in staging a raid on the MDC headquarters, saying that party activists had posed as street vendors in order to attack municipal and national police.
But the MDC officials accused President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF of using the police in a bid to destabilize the MDC ahead of the next elections, which President Mugabe has declared must be held by March of this year though many consider that unlikely.
Commenting on the raid, Tsvangirai-MDC spokesman Douglas Mwonzora said the party holds ZANU-PF responsible for the raid, not the police. He charged that ZANU-PF fears free and fair elections and has begun a campaign of intimidation of MDC members.
The Tsvangirai-MDC has long been at odds with ZANU-PF and the national police, but now it is accusing ZANU-PF of instructing the police to carry out a campaign of intimidation against it ahead of the elections that may be held this year.
Zimbabwe Republic Police Commissioner General Augustine Chihuri is an unabashed partisan of President Mugabe and the long-ruling ZANU-PF.
Harare Residents Trust Coordinator Precious Shumba accused the police of vindictiveness and pursuing a partisan agenda. He said informal vending is a reflection of widespread poverty and a symptom of the country's socio-economic crisis.
Commenting on allegations that the vendors were MDC activists, he said there is no law in Zimbabwe that prohibits an activist of a political party from engaging in sales.
“To us that demonstrates the levels of vindictiveness within the police force given that there is a dispute between the city of Harare and the police over the control and ownership of flea markets adjacent to Harare Central Police Station,” he said.
ZANU-PF lawmaker Cairo Mhandu disagreed. “Why do we mix vending with politics? What is the motive behind this? Why can’t they apply officially (for vending licenses) instead of masquerading and acting as vendors?”
The lawmaker said he was among parliamentarians who appealed to Local Government Minister Ignatious Chombo to let the vendors freely sell their products.
But, “We are against people masquerading as vendors to cause chaos and genuine vendors should simply get their licenses and start selling."