The Zimbabwean opposition faction headed by Morgan Tsvangirai found itself on the defensive on Friday amid media reports saying it had issued misleading statements on Thursday as to the death this week of a key Tsvangirai aide in South Africa.
The Movement for Democratic Change faction at a news conference Thursday said Nhamo Musekiwa died as a result of injuries sustained in beatings by police in March, when he, Tsvangirai and other top MDC officials were arrested following an abortive prayer meeting in Harare's Highfield section, where a supporter was shot dead.
Tsvangirai faction spokesman Nelson Chamisa told reporters Musekiwa died from the alleged beatings seven months ago, but the online news provider NewZimbabwe.com quoted faction treasurer Roy Bennett as objecting to the claim that the beatings were the cause of death, saying hospital documents indicated Musekiwa died of AIDS.
The opposition has come under fire in recent days for allegedly “claiming dead bodies” as an anonymous columnist for the state-controlled Herald newspaper put it, in order to back up its charges that the Zimbabwe Republic Police, state security agents and ruling ZANU-PF activists have been waging violence against MDC members.
NewZimbabwe.com identified the anonymous Herald columnist as President Robert Mugabe's spokesman, George Charamba.
Faction spokesman Chamisa in an interview with reporter Patience Rusere of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe rejected the accusation that the faction was economical with the truth in not disclosing that Mutsekiwa was in the advanced stages of AIDS.
Bennett insisted to VOA that he was misquoted by NewZimbabwe.com, saying that while Musekiwa had suffered from AIDS, his health was seriously compromised by the March beatings which led him to seek medical treatment in South Africa.
VOA was unable to obtain information from medical authorities on the proximate cause of Mutsekiwa’s death on Wednesday at Tambesi Hospital, Johannesburg.