Zimbabwe opposition braces for street protests

HARARE - Zimbabwe's main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party says it will next year mobilise Zimbabweans to take on President Robert Mugabe's government on the streets in a bid to oust it from power.

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told ZimOnline in an interview on Tuesday that the party, which has splintered into two warring factions after serious disagreements over participation in last month's senate election, had resolved to use confrontation to end Mugabe's uninterrupted 25-year rule.

"There will be mass arrests, injuries and agony. But that is the price we should be prepared to pay for our freedom because next year we are going to be as confrontational as we have never been before," said Chamisa.

He added: "We have in the past engaged in a lot of passive resistance. We will now have a paradigm shift and 2006 will see us using a different delivery route - fighting fire with fire. It is now clear that Mugabe's misrule will not be liquidated through elections."

Contacted for comment yesterday on the MDC's threats, Zimbabwe's State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, who is also Mugabe's confidante, warned that the government will crush the opposition-led street protests.

"Let them try it and they will find out the hard way that (all what has happened to them before) has all been child's play. This time we will descend on them for sure," said Mutasa.

Last month, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai hinted that his party, which has been weakened by a serious power struggle pitting him and secretary general Welshman Ncube, was now focusing on mobilising Zimbabweans for "democratic resistance" against Mugabe's government.

But observers doubt whether the MDC, paralysed by bitter factionalism, would be able to mount a serious challenge to Mugabe's authority. The Zimbabwean leader however remains wary of the threat posed by the hugely popular Tsvangirai whom he fears might still be able to take advantage of rising public discontent because of worsening economic hardships to mobilise Zimbabweans to revolt against his government.

Two weeks ago, Mugabe told Zimbabweans living in Malaysia that his government would descend heavily on the MDC and its allies if they sought to oust him through street protests.

Chamisa, who also heads the opposition party's youth wing, said the MDC and its partners in the civic movement had already agreed over the strategies they will use during the protests.

"We are going to use active resistance methods. Confrontational politics will be at the fore of our struggle. Our civic partners are aware of this great challenge lying ahead next year," he said.

Meanwhile, Chamisa on Tuesday said Tsvangirai was still firmly in charge of the opposition party contrary to last weekend's announcement by a faction opposed to his leadership that he had been expelled from the party.

Chamisa said the announcement by the pro-senate faction was part of a well orchestrated effort to sow confusion ahead of the party's congress next February.

"Mr Tsvangirai is firmly in control of the party, enjoying the support of women and youth assemblies and all provincial and district structures. So for anybody to say that Mr Tsvangirai was expelled from the MDC is utter nonsense," said Chamisa.

Last Saturday, Gift Chimanikire, who belongs to the Ncube faction, announced that the MDC leader had been expelled for violating the party's constitution in yet another demonstration of the chaos and confusion rocking the opposition party.

But yesterday, Chamisa scoffed at the ruling by the faction's disciplinary committee which he said was illegitimate and unconstitutional.

"As a party we have decided not to give any semblance of recognition to the kindergarten games played by the Ncube faction.

"These are a group of rebels who continue with their attempts to cause unnecessary confusion. Whatever they are doing is unconstitutional and should not be taken seriously," said Chamisa.

The MDC, Zimbabweans' only hope to end Mugabe's 25-year grip on power, is embroiled in a serious power struggle pitting Tsvangirai and a faction led by Ncube.