HARARE (Reuters) – A Zimbabwean court on Monday freed a senior official of a war veterans association on bail but police arrested another official, in what lawyers say is a crackdown by President Robert Mugabe against former allies who have asked him to step down.
Senior officials in the ruling ZANU-PF party are positioning for a post-Mugabe era, which has divided the party along two factions, one backing Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and another rallying behind First Lady Grace Mugabe.
The secretive Mnangagwa, nicknamed “Crocodile” in the Shona language, held a news press conference with state media reporters on Saturday, where he denied having any presidential ambition and re-affirmed his loyalty to 92-year-old Mugabe.
Douglas Mahiya, information secretary of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA), which backs Mnangagwa to succeed Mugabe, was released on $300 bail.
Harare magistrate Vakayi Chikwekwe refused a request by state prosecutors to keep Mahiya in detention for another 48 hours while they appealed the court decision to free him.
Dozens of anti-riot police lined outside the court house wielding batons and AK-47 assault rifles.
The association of former liberation war fighters, who have acted as a backbone of Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party since independence from Britain in 1980, last month accused him of running down the southern African state, eliminating rivals and being divisive in politics and manipulative in general.
Outside the Harare Magistrates Court, police arrested Victor Matemadanda, the secretary general of the ZNLWVA as he attended Mahiya’s hearing, along with dozens of other war veterans.
Matemadanda will face the same charge levelled against Mahiya of insulting and undermining Mugabe’s authority, which carries a jail term of up to one year upon conviction, his lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa told Reuters.
Police have up to 48 hours to take Matemadanda to court.
Outspoken chairman of the ZNLWVA, Chris Mustvangwa, who was fired from his job as cabinet minister and from the ruling ZANU-PF party last month, also attended Monday’s court session, alongside former vice president Joice Mujuru.
Political analysts say Zimbabwe could descend into chaos if Mugabe suddenly died without resolving the succession issue. Mugabe has previously accused the influental military of supporting different candidates to succeed him.