During the run-up to the Sadc Summit in Sandton, South Africa, Finance minister Tendai Biti, who is also MDC-T secretary-general, warned “an atmosphere of poison” reminiscent of Rwanda on the eve of the genocide that left 800 000 dead in 1994, was pervasive in Zimbabwe.
But a day after Biti spoke of escalating political tensions, Didymus Mutasa, the Presidential Affairs minister and Zanu PF secretary for administration, told me the MDC-T secretary-general’s statements were “irresponsible”.
Biti had told journalists in South Africa: “My fear is that Zanu-PF will create an atmosphere of hate and an atmosphere of poison. There are shades of Rwanda in January 1994. I just hope we avoid a Rwanda where the military is in control, law and order breaks down and there is total violence.”
Rwanda witnessed one of the worst crimes against humanity in the 20th century after the then Hutu-led government spearheaded the mass murder of Rwandans from the Tutsi minority ethnic group.
Reacting to Biti, Mutasa said: “It is irresponsible for Biti to make such a statement. I do not know if Biti as the secretary-general of the MDC is preparing Zimbabwe for that.
“We are responsible and we will avoid that. We have been provoked by the MDC. They have killed our police officers, they have bombed police stations and they have trained people in Botswana to cause violence.”
But while Biti may have gone a bit over the top in comparing the tension that gripped Rwanda during the run-up to the genocide to the situation prevailing in Zimbabwe today, it would be folly to believe the situation in our country cannot deteriorate if it is not immediately checked.
What strikes me is that during the pre-genocide era in Rwanda, army generals took control of the governing party and the running of government business in Kigali.
The late president, Juvenal Habyiarimana, was reduced to a mere figurehead.
The military began training young Rwandans in militias and made crucial political decisions which, at times, the president of the Republic was not privy to.
One of the militias, known as Interahamwe (people who work together) was responsible for most of the killings.
When Habyiarimana died after his plane was shot down at as it touched down at Kigali International Airport on April 3 1994, all hell broke loose.
Perhaps under the guise of avenging the death of the president, which was blamed on the Tutsi rebel army, army commanders led youth militias and civilians into what has become one of the most horrific chapters in the history of mankind.
God forbid if anything sinister was to befall President Robert Mugabe and be blamed on the MDC-T leadership, supporters and perceived backers.
The world must take Biti’s warnings seriously. The military appear to be in control of Zimbabwe and this is amplified by statements made by its commanders such as Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba.
There are reports soldiers are attacking supporters of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s party in Chipinge. The situation could deteriorate.
The political leadership, especially President Mugabe, should allay our fears by making it clear we are still under civilian rule. Mutasa must also walk the talk. He must show the world that Zanu PF will not allow the political situation in Zimbabwe to plunge to the pre-Rwandan genocide era.
Zimbabwe is going through a failed national healing process and political tensions are building up, especially as President Mugabe and Zanu PF continue to push for an early poll.
Attempts to unite Zimbabweans appear to be a herculean task as seen by failed efforts to build peace in violence-ridden areas.
This is a source of worry.
What compounds the situation is that even senior politicians from the competing parties seem unable to exercise restraint themselves and can haggle in front of their supporters.
Scenes from Nedziwa Business Centre where senior politicians confronted one another in front of their party supporters send a chilling warning.
All parties need to exercise caution and restraint. That is not evident at present.