Explosion strikes rally for Zimbabwe president, Emmerson Mnangagwa – video
Opposition leaders in Zimbabwe fear the bombing of a ruling party election rally on Saturday will serve as a pretext for a wide-ranging crackdown by the government or the military in the southern African state.
The attack at the White City stadium in Bulawayo apparently targeted the president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
At least 49 people, including both of Zimbabwe’s vice presidents, were injured by the explosion that occurred close to the VIP podium immediately after Mnangagwa finished his speech.
Mnangagwa later called for peace, love and unity in Zimbabwe and pledged that the attack would not derail what has been a largely peaceful election campaign so far.
The upcoming election is the latest turning point in the most tumultuous few months in almost four decades of Zimbabwe’s political history. In November, Robert Mugabe was forced out of power after 37 years, following a peaceful military takeover supported by the vast majority of the 17 million population.
The poll on 30 July pits Zanu-PF, the ruling party, against the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the longstanding opposition.
MDC officials called for an independent investigation of the attack.
“This needs an urgent and independent investigation so the culprits can be brought to book. Every reasonable Zimbabwean condemns this. We have to end this cycle of violence,” said David Coltart, a senior opposition leader.
Tendai Biti, another senior MDC leader, said it was important to “find out what has happened because the fingerprints are so obvious”.
Many opposition activists voiced concerns that the attack would be used as a pretext to crack down on their campaigning.
“We’re going to have to see who they start picking up in the next few days. There is a huge worry. Are they going to use this to justify a clampdown on opposition people,” said one official in Harare, the capital.
Zanu-PF is led by Mnangagwa, a former vice-president known as “the Crocodile” who took power when Mugabe was ousted. Polls indicate a potentially close race, but one that Zanu-PF should win.
Past votes have been marked by systematic intimidation of the opposition and fraud, and the US and others have said a credible vote is key to lifting international sanctions.
“The campaign has so far been conducted in a free and peaceful environment, and we will not allow this cowardly act to get in our way as we move towards elections … Let us continue to be united and address our differences peacefully. The strongest response to violence is peace. The strongest response to hate is love,” Mnangagwa said in a statement on Saturday night.
Derek Matyszak, an expert in Zimbabwean politics at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, said the opposition’s concerns might be misplaced.
“I don’t think [the authorities] will start closing down the democratic space for the MDC but we could well see a more extensive military deployment around the country,” he said.
The MDC have long complained that voters, especially those in rural areas, are intimidated by the presence of soldiers and thus more likely to support the government.
There is no indication of who might be responsible for Saturday’s attack. There have been frequent allegations of assassination attempts directed at Mnangagwa and other senior politicians, these have not involved bombings or firearms.
Mnangagwa said on Twitter that he was awaiting further information about the blast but added, without elaborating, that those responsible must have come from “outside Bulawayo”. He added: “I can assure you these are my normal enemies.”
The November crisis was the culmination of a lengthy power struggle between a faction of young politicians led by Mugabe’s wife Grace and supporters of Mnangagwa.
Opinion of Mnangagwa is divided among western diplomats and analysts in Harare.
Some are convinced the president wants to be seen as the statesman who has restored democracy in Zimbabwe and who would step down if defeated. Others say he “does not have a democratic bone in his body”, but has pragmatically recognised the need to win international legitimacy if his country is to access the financial assistance it so desperately needs.
Zimbabwe last experienced explosions at rallies in the 1980s, when Mugabe was targeted.