Zimbabwe’s president unhurt after “cowardly” blast at rally

0
861

HARARE, June 24 (Reuters) – President Emmerson Mnangagwa
escaped injury in an explosion at a political rally on Saturday,
and vowed the “cowardly act” would not derail Zimbabwe’s first
election since the ouster of former strongman Robert Mugabe.

Mnangagwa, a former Mugabe loyalist installed after the army
ousted his erstwhile patron, said the object had “exploded a few
inches away from me, but it is not my time.”

The blast came as Zimbabwe prepared to hold its first
post-Mugabe presidential election on July 30, with 75-year-old
Mnangagwa and 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the
opposition Movement for Democratic Change, the main contenders.

Authorities gave no details of what had caused the explosion
at Mnangagwa’s first rally in Bulawayo, an opposition stronghold
where the ruling ZANU-PF has not won in national elections since
2000.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the blast
and the run up to this year’s vote had been relatively peaceful,
unlike previous elections which were marred by violence, mostly
against opposition members by ZANU-PF supporters.

“The campaign so far has 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,” Mnangagwa said.

“Its just an element of defeatists in the struggle of
freedom. The country is peaceful.”

Mnangagwa said the injured included Vice President Kembo
Mohadi, the wife of Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, the
environment minister and the deputy speaker of parliament.

Several security personnel were also hurt, the state-owned
Herald newspaper said.

State television ZBC said 42 people were injured in the
explosion, six of them seriously. The broadcaster also showed
footage of a jovial Mnangagwa walking around the state house
gardens in Bulawayo.

Mnangagwa also visited injured people in hospital alongside
Chiwenga. Health Minister David Parirenyatwa said some of the
injured had serious stomach wounds.

Mnangagwa’s rise to the presidency was fiercely resisted by
Mugabe loyalists, including his wife Grace. Mugabe later said he
felt betrayed by Mnangagwa, who lived in the shadows of his
former boss for nearly 50 years.

 

POLITICAL VIOLENCE

Opposition leader Chamisa expressed sympathy for the victims
of the blast and said no stone should be left unturned in the
police investigation.

“Political violence of any nature from any quarter is
totally unacceptable. In the past 38 years political violence
has been a permanent feature and an anticipated ritual … which
we must expunge,” Chamisa said.

Mnangagwa said on Saturday he was “used to these attempts”
on his life, noting that he had been poisoned at a rally outside
Bulawayo last August when still Mugabe’s vice president.

He spent weeks receiving medical treatment in neighbouring
South Africa.

Twenty-three candidates have registered to contest the
election and Mnangagwa has promised a free and fair vote.

International observers are in the country for the first
time since 2002 and, if they endorse the conduct of the ballot,
it could help Zimbabwe secure funding from international
institutions for the first time in two decades.

Both main candidates are campaigning on a pledge to revive
an economy crippled by a legacy of often violent seizures of
land from white commercial farmers and a black economic
empowerment drive that targeted foreign-owned businesses.

Those policies were cornerstones of Mugabe’s near
four-decade rule, but the ruling ZANU-PF says Zimbabwe is at a
critical stage of its transition and needs an experienced hand
like Mnangagwa at the tiller.

Chamisa says the president is equally to blame for the
Zimbabwe’s economic woes as he served in each of Mugabe’s
governments since independence in 1980.