President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s office yesterday denied stage-managing a bomb blast in the second capital as a pretext to hunt down and silence political opponents linked to the country’s sulking former leader Robert Mugabe who is said to be stepping up efforts to get back at his successor.
This comes after Mnangagwa narrowly escaped injury when a blast exploded at a political rally at White City Stadium on Saturday in a grenade attack that injured Vice President Kembo Mohadi, deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Mabel Chinomona, Zanu-PF national chairperson Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, political commissar Engelbert Rugeje, and the wife of Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, Marry, and several aides.
Mnangagwa has blamed the bomb attack on his “normal enemies” whom he said were motivated by their intense hatred of him and have previously “tried to poison me” at a Gwanda presidential youth interface rally in August last year.
Then first lady Grace Mugabe publicly denied that she was behind the attempted poisoning of her biggest rival to succeed her husband, angrily dismissing the allegations as “nonsensical”.
Presidential spokesperson, George Charamba told the Daily News in a wide-ranging interview yesterday that the security agencies must be left to conclude their investigations, but said “there are unresolved leadership issues in this country, don’t forget that.”
In the wake of the soft coup, a bitter Mugabe – who had run Zimbabwe since 1980 and overseen its descent into economic ruin – has sensationally backed an opposition party fronted by his acolyte and a retired brigadier general Ambrose Mutinhiri against Mnangagwa in a bid to sink his presidential bid.
As controversy swirls over who is to blame for the blast that has exposed one of Zanu-PF’s deepest fault lines, Charamba said those suggesting the blast was stage-managed had a “fertile imagination.”
“You think where you have such serious injuries, including high-profile ones; you use such an incident, to achieve what? I mean, that’s a bit of a psychopathic thinking. That is uncalled for in circumstances that are so dire and quite serious,” an irritated Charamba told the Daily News.
Asked why the president’s security details allowed him to visit the injured in hospital after the stomach-churning realisation that there was an attempt on his life, Charamba said the decision to drive the motorcade to Mater Dei was an act of compassion by Mnangagwa.
He denied that the president’s evacuation protocol was breached in the face of the emergency, insisting the head of State was taken to a secure shelter at Bulawayo State House.
The main protocols of escape are highly classified.
“The safety was there. If you notice there was a time gap between the attack and the time he then went to Mater Dei. Lots of things happened and we don’t have to go shouting on a rooftop,” he said.
He also denied the president went gallivanting around Bulawayo, even issuing an interview to the State TV senior reporter Reuben Barwe in an open park in breach of an evacuation drill for high-level officials in the event of an emergency.
“I think the word to use is not gallivanting; he went about checking on his colleagues who had been hurt. These are soldiers, don’t forget, and when you have had an attack of this nature, you don’t cow into a shell, do you?” he asked rhetorically.
“And as a matter of fact, you notice that everyone has been evacuated, they are now at Manyame Airbase Hospital.
“Precautions are being taken, the trouble is that you guys expect us to deal with security issues in the public domain.
“If the president had gone straight for the airport, what is he suggesting? That the people in Bulawayo can’t be protected? Or that those injured shouldn’t be commiserated with? So he does his human and State duties. And it’s his responsibility anyway to secure the country. So people shouldn’t reduce matters that are so serious to fanciful scenarios,” Charamba told the Daily News.
He said authorities were approaching the bombing with an open mind and exploring every possibility.
“The reflex is you think wide, you think broad, and you eliminate less likely probabilities,” Charamba told this publication.
“Why don’t we wait and see what the investigation will yield. Except we are saying these attempts have been done in the past, and that tells you that it might have something to do with the contestation that has not yet been resolved, even internally.”
The Media, Information and Broadcasting Services ministry permanent secretary said after “the attempted assassination of Mnangagwa”, security agencies will try to learn from the event and could permanently change the modus operandi of the agencies charged with protecting the president.
“Obviously after an incident we have had in Bulawayo, I mean, the ball game changes completely,” he said.
He said Zimbabwe does not have a tradition of political assassinations.
“That is not something that is normally done. But you see these are some of the consequences of long peace. We don’t have a tradition of assassinating leaders, I mean that does not happen. These attempts were made in 1980 and ever since we have not had any such incidence, but then you saw the Ethiopian incident where a grenade was thrown,” he said referring to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who survived a grenade attack on Saturday at a massive rally in support of his push for radical political and economic reforms, including a peace deal with regional arch-enemy Eritrea.
“You see, generally, it’s very difficult to insure against a device that can be thrown at its target. It can happen anytime and anywhere.”
Charamba also ruled out the declaration of a state of emergency.
“We can’t go into a state of panic. It’s a wakeup call that requires the State to revisit its own security, procedures and arrangement. And once that is done, we must be able to proceed with a national programme for elections without any sense of guilt, regret or fear,” he said, adding “whose idea was it anyway to enter a state of emergency?”
Told about the scenario building underway in the country in the wake of the bomb blast, Charamba said “expect scenario building, that’s a natural response of a citizen that has been jolted.”
“But the State must put on its thinking hat. We can’t join civilians in panicking. That doesn’t make sense. State of emergency!
“Then you must stop the whole electoral process because you are suggesting that the environment is no longer conducive. Isn’t that what was intended?”
Charamba said the bomb blast was an attempt to discredit Mnangagwa’s declaration that Zimbabwe would hold transparent elections and he would respect the result if the opposition won – a pledge crucial to unlocking urgently needed financial assistance and repairing relations with Western powers and international financial institutions.
“It’s a dig at ED’s call for a free fair and credible election, that’s the whole idea, isn’t it? It’s interesting it is happening just two days before the signing of peace pact with political parties under the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission.”
Zimbabwe’s 23 presidential candidates are signing a peace pledge this week in an effort to prevent political violence, an accord set to act as a demonstration of the political parties’ commitment to seeking peaceful redress of possible disputes arising before, during and after elections.
When the Daily News put it to Charamba that there were apparently certain shortcomings and lapses from the high standards which should prevail in the field of presidential protection that could undoubtedly embolden an enemy that is both apparently capable and determined to attack, Charamba said “not necessarily.”
“It depends on how robust the response is going to be and you will notice there will be quite a robust response,” he told the Daily News.
“And it’s going to be all encompassing; there is no doubt about it. Once bitten twice, shy… The trouble is once you start commissioning a tradition of assassinating leaders in a political environment, it will not end. It becomes a manner of changing power, you see.
“We will never ever allow that to happen. You can’t have blood around the throne. It’s just a bad tradition for Zimbabwe.”
Asked why he thought there was an attempt to shed blood now after a bloodless coup that was in stark contrast with many other coups d’état in Africa over the years, which have often seen heavy fighting as the military tried to seize power, and sometimes the death of the incumbent leader, Charamba said:
“That was exactly the point, if you consider the extent to which everyone went out of their way to ensure there was no blood drawn.
“I mean, surely, why should you draw blood in this time? It doesn’t make sense. So it’s a matter that everyone is taking quite seriously and people will have to go back to the drawing board to see how we can secure our leaders. And I use the word leaders broadly, it’s not just the president, it’s everyone,” he said.
“And by the way, you know what, yes the target in this particular case is Emmerson, but much more than the president, the target is the electoral process, you see.
“You don’t confine it to the president alone, it can happen to any other 23 candidates contending presidential candidates.
“The point I’m making is the whole review of the security sector will have to encompass all the 23 (presidential) candidates. This is a national security issue, yes it has happened to ED, well, just as well. We are jolted into reviewing.
“You know the American system ensures kuti every presidential candidate gets covered. Thank God in our case we have the GNU background, thus (main MDC presidential candidate Nelson) Chamisa are not foreign to concept of State-assisted protection, which is a constitutional requirement anyway.
“There is just going to be a complete rethink. Of course I’m not pre-empting our security personnel, but there is going to be complete rethink across the board because clearly, we can’t take certain things for granted anymore after this incident,” Charamba told the Daily News.