Zimbabwe security minister repeats threats to shoot protesters
Speaking to ZimOnline at the weekend, Mutasa said no one should expect the government to "keep its security organs in the camps" in the face of opposition-instigated protests meant to oust it.
The Security Minister, who oversees the state's spy Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) mocked at suggestions that security commanders might refuse to order their men to use force to put down protests, especially in the event Zimbabweans heeded opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai's call and turned out in the streets en masse.
"We will not fold our arms while the country burns," said Mutasa, one of the most influential members of President Robert Mugabe's Cabinet. In addition to overseeing intelligence operations, Mutasa is also in charge of land reform and food aid redistribution.
Mutasa on April 12 told ZimOnline that the government would instruct organs of security such as the army to use all resources at their disposal "including guns" to stop opposition protests. But subsequent reports by the Voice of America's Studio 7 suggested the Security Minister never said "deadly force" would be used to prevent a Ukraine-style uprising in Zimbabwe.
Asked at the weekend how the government would handle the planned protests Mutasa replied: "Organs of security are there to maintain security and no sane government in this world will keep its security organs in the camps while some mischievous elements destabilise the country, even threatening to remove a democratically elected government by force."
When put to Mutasa that security commanders might refuse to order their men to fire at civilians - as some political analysts have suggested might happen if demonstrators turn out in the streets in sufficiently large numbers - he responded: "Do you think disciplined forces like the CIO, the army and the police would not listen to orders or let Tsvangirai have his way?
"If Tsvangirai is brave as he says he is, then he should march alone, along Samora Machel Avenue to the Head of State's offices. Then he shall see that we mean business.
"But he doesn't want to lead from the front. He wants to use others as cannon fodder .... Tsvangirai is not a good leader because he wants to put others on the firing line while he cheers from home."
Tsvangirai, who says his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party has lost faith in elections as a democratic tool to change the government because Mugabe always rigs polls, has vowed to call mass anti-government protests this winter to force the government to accept a new and democratic constitution that would ensure free and fair polls.
The MDC leader says he is ready to lead from the front in street protests to force Mugabe to accept democracy even if this could lead to his own death but last Sunday sounded frustrated that police and soldiers might still obey orders to shoot at demonstrators.
"They (police and soldiers) come to my house every day complaining that they are suffering yet when Mugabe says crush the mass demonstration they are ready to shoot the people," Tsvangirai said during a rally at Zimbabwe Grounds in Harare, one of several he has held in major cities recently to drum up support for protests.
"You must not be used. The military, the police, the CIO and the war veterans all of you should remember this when the day of the mass demonstration comes," Tsvangirai added, in an attempt to appeal directly to the security forces not to oppose the protests whose date he is yet to announce.
Mutasa's repeated threat to use deadly force to stop protests is in line with similarly strongly worded threats by the government against Tsvangirai and the MDC with Mugabe having warned the opposition leader last month that he would be "dicing with death" if he tried to instigate mass revolt.
Zimbabwe has been on edge since Tsvangirai and his MDC party resolved at a congress last month that they would no longer limit themselves to elections but would use what they called "people power" to pressure Mugabe to embrace democracy.
Analysts say the MDC that enjoys strong support in urban areas is best placed to lead streets protests against the government, adding that with strong leadership and organization, mass action could be successful.
But they also caution that the opposition party is at the moment too weakened to confront the government and its army in the streets after it split into two rival camps last year.
Besides the Tsvangirai-led MDC - that is widely seen as the main rival to Mugabe and ZANU PF - there is another faction of the opposition party that is led by former student activist Arthur Mutambara.