Rather than easing tensions within Zimbabwe's national unity government, the High Court acquittal this week of Roy Bennett, a senior official in the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, has opened a new battle front between the MDC grouping and President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.
President Mugabe for more than a year refused to swear in Bennett as deputy minister of agriculture, saying the case against him must be disposed of, but now ZANU-PF is backpedaling on that implied promise.
Tsvangirai MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the party expects Bennett to be sworn in immediately.
But ZANU-PF Legal Affairs Secretary and Minister of Defense Emmerson Mnangangwa told state television that Mr. Mugabe must not be hurried and that Bennett’s swearing-in is not automatic.
Sources said ZANU-PF hardliners backed by the so-called Joint Operations Command comprising top army and security officials remain reluctant to foreswear the violence and harassment of opponents.
ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that Mnangangwa is handling all issues related to Bennett as the party's legal secretary.
Amnesty International, meanwhile, issued a statement saying it welcomed Bennett’s acquittal but adding that the unity government must “end all malicious prosecutions of people exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.” Amnesty Deputy Director for Africa Michelle Kagari said the formation of the Harare unity government in February 2009 did not end politically motivated harassment.
Political analyst Charles Mangongera said ZANU-PF by its actions since Bennett's acquittal on Monday is proving that the prosecution of the former commercial farmer was pursued for political reasons.