Botswana: Zimbabwe claims ‘distorted’ and ‘concocted’

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Neighbouring Botswana dismissed Zimbabwe’s sabre rattling at it as nothing more than “distorted” and “concocted facts”.

Zimbabwe’s state-controlled daily newspaper, The Herald, launched a broadside attack on its neighbour on 15 December, claiming the government had “compelling evidence” that Botswana was providing military training to “bandits” from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Botswana is the region’s staunchest critic of Zimbabwe and recently suggested that sealing the landlocked country’s borders would lead to the collapse of President Robert Mugabe’s 28-year rule in a week.

Justice minister Patrick Chinamasa told The Herald: “My plea to [Botswana’s President Ian] Khama and his government is to think carefully about the irreversible harm they have been plotting to unleash on the region.

“Botswana has availed its territory, material and logistical support to MDC-T [the MDC faction led by Morgan Tsvangirai] for the recruitment and military training of youths for the eventual destabilisation of the country, with a view to effecting illegal regime change.”

The use of the word “bandits” is a chilling reminder of Operation Gukurahundi (The rain that washes away the chaff before the spring rain), which Mugabe’s government launched on the then opposition party and its supporters soon after Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in 1980, on the pretext of tackling insurgents and counter-revolutionaries sponsored by apartheid South Africa.

Echoes of Gukurahundi

In the event, about 20,000 people, almost all civilians, were killed by the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade in the Matabeleland and Midlands provinces in southwestern Zimbabwe, strongholds of the rival liberation movement ZAPU.

“We now have evidence that while they [MDC] were talking peace, they have been preparing for war and insurgency, as well as soliciting the West [the US and Britain] to invade our country on the pretext of things like cholera,” Chinamasa said.

The death toll from a cholera outbreak that began in August and spread across the country has reached nearly 1,000.

Chinamasa said the “evidence” had been handed to the Southern Africa Development Community’s (SADC) Organ on Politics, Defence and Security.

A statement by Botswana’s department of foreign affairs said: “As Zimbabwe has already publicly passed judgment on its own allegations, the ministry wishes to reaffirm that Zimbabwe’s submission [to the SADC] contains nothing more than distorted and or concocted evidence, none of which is supported by facts.”

Botswana submitted its response to Zimbabwe’s allegations to the SADC on 10 December, saying in the statement that “Zimbabwe had dismally failed to produce any tangible, much less compelling, facts in support of its allegations.”

MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa said the rhetoric levelled against it and Botswana, which often hosts Tsvangirai, were “false”.

“The MDC does not believe in violence, and there is no way we can train youths to overthrow President Mugabe. We believe in democratic methods just like the ones we used and displayed in March this year, when we defeated ZANU-PF in the harmonised [combined presidential and parliamentary] elections,” Chamisa said.

He said the abduction of 15 MDC activists in Manicaland Province, in eastern Zimbabwe, more than a month ago was a plan to force a “confession” from them that Botswana was providing military training to MDC members.

“ZANU-PF is torturing our activists and they want to force them to admit to undergoing military training in Botswana, so as to divert international and regional attention from their own human rights record and the humanitarian situation unfolding in the country.

“But this will not work,” Chamisa said. “We are aware of ZANU-PF plans to declare a state of emergency in Zimbabwe, using false claims.”


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