Zimbabwe president blasts assassination attempt as a ‘cowardly act’ after bombing rocks rally

Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa narrowly survives an attempt on his life after a blast at a party rally that injured two of his vice-presidents and several party officials

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 24 June, 2018, 11:42am
UPDATED : Sunday, 24 June, 2018, 9:37pm

Zimbabwe’s president was unscathed by an explosion at a campaign rally that state media called an attempt to assassinate him, later visiting his two injured vice presidents and declaring the “cowardly act” will not disrupt next month’s historic elections.

Dramatic footage on Saturday showed a smiling President Emmerson Mnangagwa walking off the stage and into a crowded tent where the blast occurred seconds later, sending up smoke as people screamed and ran for cover.

Officials said Mnangagwa was whisked from the stadium rally to a nearby government building in Bulawayo, a traditional opposition stronghold.

The explosion went off a “few inches away from me, but it is not my time,” the president told state broadcaster ZBC.

Mnangagwa, who has joked openly about multiple attempts on his life in the past, said he was used to them by now.

At least eight people were injured, the state-run Herald newspaper reported. Vice-President Kembo Mohadi had leg injuries, while Constantino Chiwenga, a second vice-president and the former military commander, had bruises on his face, the report said.

ZANU-PF chairwoman and cabinet minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri and Mary Chiwenga, the wife of vice-president Chiwenga, were also among those injured, he said, as was deputy parliament speaker Mabel Chinomona.

Most of the injured were discharged from a hospital after treatment, presidential spokesman George Charamba told the newspaper.

The blast and the lack of clarity about who was behind it injected new uncertainty into preparations for the July 30 elections, the first since long-time leader Robert Mugabe stepped down in November after a military takeover.

Mnangagwa, who had been fired as Mugabe’s deputy in a ruling party feud soon before the power transition, took over with pledges to deliver free and fair elections.

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.”

He had fled Zimbabwe soon after his firing in November by Mugabe, who along with his wife, Grace, had sharply criticised the man who had been his closest confidant for many years.

Mnangagwa on Saturday evening appealed to the southern African nation for unity.

“The campaign 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,” he said.

Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, said on Twitter: “Our prayers go out to the injured and we hope no lives have been lost. Violence must have no place in our politics.”

The United States and Britain were among countries that condemned the explosion. The US embassy said on Twitter that “political violence in any form is unacceptable” and contrary to the progress needed to move Zimbabwe forward and “take its place on the global stage.”

The blast came just hours after a similar attack in Ethiopia, where a grenade explosion killed at least one person and injured scores just after the new, reformist prime minister addressed a huge rally in the capital.

Zimbabwe’s election next month will be the first without Mugabe since independence from white minority rule in 1980. Mnangagwa, a former justice and defence minister who served for decades as Mugabe’s enforcer, has invited Western election observers for the first time in almost two decades.

Previous elections in Zimbabwe have been marred by electoral fraud, intimidation and violence, including the killing of scores of opposition supporters in 2008.

Chipo Dendere, a Zimbabwean professor of political science at Amherst College in the US, said the incident would change the tone of the election campaign.

“This is going to make everyone a little bit tense … this is the first time we have seen such a blatant attack,” she said blaming divisions inside the ruling ZANU-PF for the attack.

“Whatever internal fissures existed within ZANU-PF before (the coup in) November, those fissures didn’t go away.”

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse