Zimbabwe's deputy commissioner of police (operations), Godwin T. Matanga, explains to Baffour Ankomah why his officers beat up Morgan Tsvangirai and other opposition leaders on 11 March. "It was in self-defence, because Tsvangirai and his group were trying to overrun the Machipisa police station by force," says the deputy commissioner.
Baffour: So far we have heard only one side of the story about the beating up of Morgan Tsvangiria and the other MDC leaders. What really happened on the day, and why did your officers beat up the opposition leaders?
Deputy Commissioner Matanga: First, I would want to welcome you to police headquarters, and thank you for coming to listen to our side of the story. I would like to believe that the Ministry of Information has given you a broader picture of what is going on right now in the country, so I will confine myself to the specific issue you have raised.
There are quite a number of activities or events which occurred before and since 11 March. For example, in January and February this year, MDC activists had petrol-bombed cars, mini-vans, public buses, and had attacked police stations and officers and injured some of them. These are acts of terrorism which the police were trying to deal with before the events of 11 March occurred.
But of particular interest to you, from your question, is the day when the leader of the MDC "anti-Senate" faction, Morgan Tsvangirai, was arrested. [Tsvangirai's faction was against entering candidates for last year's Senate election, which led to a split of the MDC into two, one faction--the "pro-Senate election"--is now headed by Prof Arthur Mutambara].
On Sunday 11 March, at about 11am, the leaders of the two MDC factions were seen inciting people to attend a rally which had been banned by the police. We then deployed our officers to make sure that peace and tranquillity prevailed, and that people were not going to be disturbed by anyone.
It was in the Highfield area of the capital, Harare. To be more specific, it was at the Michipisa police station where the officer in charge was patrolling and carrying on his responsibilities in the area with eight other officers in a pick-up truck, when they encountered a group of about 200 people. Unfortunately, there were five-year-old children in front of this big group and the police found it difficult to encounter this group because of the presence of these young children.
As a result of the MDC officials inciting people to attend a banned rally at Zimbabwe Grounds in Highfields, this group of 200 people became very rowdy against the police. They attacked our officers and severely injured two of them.
Thereafter, in reaction to this encounter, the leader of the MDC "pro-Senate" faction, Prof Arthur Mutambara, was arrested along with some of his members and they were detained at the Michipisa police station. Because Mutambara did not resist arrest and was not violent towards the police, he was not assaulted, nobody touched him.
From the intelligence we got that morning, Mr Tsvangirai was then phoned by one of his own members telling him that he was losing the limelight to Arthur Mutambara because Arthur had been arrested and was already in police cells, and that if he didn't come, Arthur was going to take the glory and world attention from him.
So Mr Tsvangirai, not wanting to lose the limelight to Mutambara, then drove straight to the Machipisa police station. When he got to the main gate, he encountered the police officers manning the gate. There was a group of ordinary people and MDC supporters standing outside the gate when Mr Tsvangirai arrived and demanded the release of Mutambara and others.
The police openly told him not to get inside the station as the people outside were trying to overrun the station. Tsvangirai, defying the police admonitions, tried to force his way into the station. That's when he was beaten up by our officers.
A bit later, Mr Lovemore Madhuku (leader of the National Constitutioal Aseembly--NCA, which is allied to the opposition), also arrived and demanded the release of the same group led by Mutambara. Again, Madhuku was beaten up by the police. That's what I can say about the arrest of Mr Tsvangirai.
Baffour: What happened to Sekai Holland, one of the MDC female officials, and the others?
Matanga: She was in the group going around the area mobilising people to attend the banned rally. She was telling people to defy the police officers manning strategic points in the area. She was telling them to disregard the police presence and proceed to the Zimbabwe Grounds and attend the rally.
She incited the people who had gathered around Machipisa shopping centre, a large group of people, to come towards the police station and overrun it. It was at this stage that Morgan Tsvangirai arrived.
Tsvangirai was now at the gate, and Sekai Holland was still inciting people to attend the rally. When our officers tried to stop her, she came out of her vehicle and insulted the officers. This is what prompted the officers to react against her and her group. They provoked our officers. Initially, they were...