Zambia deported MDC Alliance co-principal, Tendai Biti, back home early yesterday morning after his bid to secure asylum in the neighbouring country failed on Wednesday.
Many were shocked to learn that Biti had been arrested at Chirundu Border Post on Wednesday morning as he attempted to exit the country to seek refuge in Zambia. Yes, he was being sought by local police for allegedly inciting public violence last week and for violating the Electoral Act when declaring his leader, Mr Nelson Chamisa, as having won the presidency in the July 30 election, but we could not comprehend why he had to flee the country. For that he suffered the double embarrassment of a very public arrest and his deportation 24 hours later.
Biti is a veritable motor-mouth, given to verbosity and incendiary rhetoric. He finds it very easy to talk death and violence in the goriest of terms. Why he does that we don’t know.
Early last month after he and Mr Chamisa had led an opposition demonstration in Harare against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), he came out to declare that they would hunt down Zec officials, drag them out of their homes and have them lynched on the streets. Terrified Zec officials lodged a complaint with the police over the threat. The other day he accused, without providing any evidence whatsoever, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga of having signed an order to have him assassinated.
“We will be leading from the front. We will be living on the streets. We are not going to allow this election to be stolen. They can kill us. We are prepared to die for a free, fair and credible election,” he said days before the election.
Soon after polling in March 2008, Biti came out to declare that the then MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, had won the presidential election. This was in violation of the Electoral Act which assigns the responsibility of declaring election winners to Zec. He was back at it this year, proclaiming Mr Chamisa as having won the July 30 election.
It is sad that we have senior politicians in this country who behave in that way. Biti’s unguarded tongue especially when emotions are high like now after a hotly contested election, is dangerous as it can incite opposition supporters to riot. In fact, that is what happened on August 1 when MDC Alliance supporters burnt vehicles and looted shops in a fracas that left six people dead and others injured in Harare as news filtered through that their party was losing. Biti is one of the seven opposition activists who were wanted in connection with that violence.
President Mnangagwa and everyone with a sound mind have unreservedly condemned the violence that occurred last week. The President has pledged to set up a commission of inquiry to investigate why it happened. In a joint statement, the European Union, the US and Britain also spoke against the post-election violence, saying everyone involved must face the music whatever their station in society. Among them is Biti.
“We hold the opposition MDC Alliance and its whole leadership responsible for this disturbance of national peace which was meant to disrupt the electoral process,” said the President.
“Equally, we hold the party and its leadership responsible for any loss of life, injury or damage to property that arises from these acts of political violence which they have aided and abetted.”
Biti appeared in court in Harare yesterday. He was not formally charged for inciting public violence as defined by Section 36 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act Chapter 9:23 and contravening Section 66A(1) of the Electoral Act Chapter 2:13, which prohibits the unofficial or false declaration of election results. He was granted $5 000 bail coupled with stringent conditions.
He must face the music for what he did. His colleagues who are wanted for inciting and perpetrating public violence deserve their time in court as well.
Indeed some have already been arraigned and have been granted bail.
The disturbances we witnessed last week are contrary to what the President and his party Zanu-PF have been preaching throughout the campaign period — peace and tolerance. Because of that leadership, we had our most peaceful campaign period possibly since Independence. However, while the President was preaching peace, Mr Chamisa and Biti were priming their supporters for violence in the event that they lost the elections, which they did.
Our courts have a good record of handling cases in a professional manner and these will certainly be no exception. Those who are found guilty must be punished severely so that a message goes out that violence has no place in our country.