BY BLESSED MHLANGA
OPPOSITION politicians and analysts have challenged President Emmerson Mnangagwa (pictured) to publicly apologise over the “insensitive and tasteless jokes” he made in Harare last week, particularly his threat to deploy soldiers to beat up residents of Kuwadzana high-density suburb should he discover they were responsible for the current dry spell in the country.
Addressing a poorly-attended clean-up campaign programme in Kuwadzana — where Chamisa was once MP — Mnangagwa jokingly said he would not hesitate to deploy the army to beat up the residents for causing the prolonged dry spell.
“If we hear that it was the people of Kuwadzana who are causing the rain not to fall, we would simply say army, team up and let’s beat them,” he said.
Although meant to be a jest, the Zanu PF leader’s remarks were particularly chilling especially in light of how the military has been used to crush dissent following Mnangagwa’s rise to the presidency.
The army is generally feared in Harare’s high-density areas of Glen View, Kuwadzana, Kambuzuma and Warren Park which were put under lockdown by soldiers during the August 1, 2018 BY
post-election demonstrations and January 14 to 16 2019 fuel hike protests.
MDC leader Nelson Chamisa said the joke was proof that Mnangagwa used the army as a tool of choice to cow down citizens.
“He believes that whenever there is a problem, violence is the solution. He believes that whatever he perceives to be a problem manifesting itself, there must be crushing. Why would you bring in the military on people you think have caused rains not to fall? This clearly tells you that he has a hammer approach to every problem. Not every problem needs a hammer. At times you also need to be pacific and talk to people and engage people,” the opposition leader said.
“A president cannot afford to have such light moments of threatening to bring soldiers into the high-density areas to beat up people for whatever reason. A president cannot afford to make such jokes. When you invoke the involvement of the army, when you invoke the involvement of a presidential voice on such a particular issue, you are actually giving it and assigning seriousness and you can’t possibly joke with such issues because those are the things that then form the physic of a nation.”
Chamisa said violence should never be part of how the country should transact its politics because it was never a solution.
“Violence and force can’t be at the core and centre of how we engage with one another as citizens. If there is a problem, violence is not the solution. If you continue to propagate violence, ultimately you also invite it upon yourself,” he said.
Exiled former Zanu PF politburo member and Cabinet minister Jonathan Moyo took to Twitter to register his anger over Mnangagwa’s joke: “What a violent and unpresidential disposition. Your (Nick Mangwana) boss is scaling new heights in the open-mouth shut-mind politics.”
Social and political analyst Rashweat Mukundu said Mnangagwa’s statements reflected the character of his administration.
“People tend to say the truth and reveal who they are in unguarded moments and this reference to soldiers being sent to beat up civilians and coming as naturally from ED as it did betrays the President as a person with a penchant for violence and contempt for the suffering that Zimbabweans have gone through at the hands of the military,” he said.
“It appears that violence is the default position of ED when faced with criticism and opposition and this makes the Motlanthe Commission a laughable matter because the instinct of the most powerful person in Zimbabwe is still to unleash soldiers on civilians.”
But Information permanent secretary Ndavaningi Mangwana said it was just a light-hearted exchange between the President and Kuwadzana residents, now being taken out of context for political mileage.
According to an independent commission appointed by Mnangagwa and led by former South African President, Kgalema Motlanthe, the army used unproportioned force, firing live ammunition to unarmed demonstrators during the August 1, 2018 violence, killing six and injuring 22.
The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission and Amnesty International in detailed reports of the January 14, 2019 fuel hike protests also fingered the army for leading a violent crackdown on protesters, amid reports that soldiers raped women in the high-density areas during deployment to stop the demonstrations.
Speaking during the same campaign, Mnangagwa urged citizens to avoid eating meat — which has become increasingly expensive under his administration, saying residents should instead opt for vegetables.
“You should eat vegetables, they are recommended by doctors. Doctors want you to eat vegetables so that you stay healthy. Meat is not good at all. We have differed there; I listen to doctors, so I eat vegetables. They said vitamins are found in vegetables and potatoes. You see,” Mnangagwa said amid grumbling from the crowd.
In response to the call, New Patriotic Front (NPF) president Tendai Peter Munyanduri said, in a statement, it was shocking that Mnangagwa now wanted citizens “to eat grass like cattle”.
Munyanduri — whose campaign manifesto included ensuring that Zimbabweans will have “at least an egg, bacon and milk at every breakfast” — said it would be unhealthy for people to solely rely on vegetables.
“Why did Mnangagwa not promise grass as food for Zimbabweans in his 2018 election manifesto?” he quipped.