Embattled Finance minister Tendai Biti yesterday fled over 100 marauding war veterans who had held him hostage at his offices in Harare for hours on end, baying for his blood over a litany of issues including civil servants’ salaries.
The ex-freedom fighters, who have positioned themselves as Zimbabwe’s pillars of economic and political emancipation, called for Biti to either listen to President Robert Mugabe or quit.
Chanting and gyrating in front of government offices, the prowling group blocked the main entrance to the building, declaring Biti would not leave the premises until their concerns were addressed.
As their placard-carrying colleagues continued with the mayhem, a few went up to Biti’s offices demanding to see the minister, but to no avail.
Information which filtered through to NewsDay was that Biti, who has been castigated by Zanu PF’s arm of the wobbly inclusive government currently standing on shifting sands, was eventually whisked away to safety.
The war veterans refused to field questions from journalists, but their placards carried clear messages:
“Give civil servants a salary increment or resign immediately Biti . . . Biti resign immediately for defying President’s directive”; “President Mugabe represents Zimbabweans, Biti represents the West”; and “No one is allowed to defy the President let alone his principals”.
It was a tense atmosphere at the offices as the war veterans refused to take no for an answer when they demanded to see the minister. A security guard manning the door was verbally abused and almost assaulted.
“We understand he (Biti) had to be whisked through the back door. This is an unfortunate incident, a straightforward minister living like a criminal,” a senior MDC-T official who refused to be named for fear of a backlash from the former guerillas told NewsDay last night.
Biti and the Zanu PF component in government are embroiled in a bitter stand-off over increasing civil servants’ salaries.
The minister has said Treasury does not have the money to increase government’s wage bill, a position his critics are contesting.
Security chiefs weighed in early this month saying Biti’s reluctance to increase civil servants’ salaries was now a threat to national security.
A few days later, Biti’s house was bombed, destroying part of the security wall.
However, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai over the weekend said his party would not pull out of the inclusive government despite the frustrations and intimidations from Zanu PF.
All police spokespersons in Harare — Wayne Bvudzijena, Andrew Phiri and James Sabau — said they were unaware of the gathering. Persistent efforts to get hold of Biti proved fruitless last night.