AGRICULTURE minister and former Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) commander Air Chief Marshal Perrance Shiri yesterday warned those behind the “terrorist” explosion that rocked the Zanu PF campaign rally at White City Stadium in Bulawayo on Saturday injuring 49 that they were “playing with fire”.
BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA/ RICHARD CHIDZA/ NQOBANI NDLOVU/ KUDZAI MUCHENJEKWA
Shiri’s warning came a day after President Emmerson Mnangagwa escaped death by a whisker following an explosion that left scores of people seriously injured including senior government officials — Vice-President Kembo Mohadi, Zanu PF chair Oppah Muchinguri and party commissar Engelbert Rugeje.
Addressing a campaign rally at Nhakiwa business centre in Uzumba district of Mashonaland East province, Shiri described the attack as an act of terrorism targeted at Mnangagwa and his top allies.
“Do not revenge, as the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) and the police are investigating the issue. We are not there to seek revenge. Those who are doing that think that maybe we are fools, but this is what we call playing with fire. We do not want to point fingers at each other over this. Be careful and when you see someone suspicious at a rally, just alert the police,” he said, describing the attack as an act of extremism.
His utterances came as Zanu PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo issued a statement describing the attack as barbaric.
“While these primitive, satanic and heinous acts of terror are being subjected to the highest measure of the law, Zanu PF remains unflinching and resolute towards achieving the goal of peace and above all else the goal of uplifting the people’s livelihoods. Notwithstanding the disturbances, the party will continue its campaign programmes as scheduled,” he said.
The crime scene was teeming with security details yesterday as they scoured for leads in a bid to piece together the causes of the incident that has little precedence in Zimbabwe.
But it was Shiri’s comments that could likely stoke tensions.
Shiri commanded the 5th Brigade that reportedly wreaked havoc in the western parts of the country in what is now known as Gukurahundi.
Up to 20 000 civilians were reportedly killed in an orgy of violence targeting then opposition leader Joshua Nkomo’s supporters under the guise of hunting down a handful of dissidents in the Midlands and Matabeleland provinces.
“The President is preaching about peace but yesterday (Saturday) someone was possessed by the (Biblical) spirit of Legion (and) wanted to destroy the leader of the party. We are preaching peace and others are
responding with terrorism. That is what we call terrorism, down with terrorism. This has never happened in the history of Zimbabwe,” the former AFZ boss said.
Addressing a separate campaign rally at Chibuku Stadium in Chitungwiza yesterday, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga said the Saturday attack would not derail preparations for the July 30 polls.
“Let me make this very clear, nothing will stop the elections in Zimbabwe, nothing at all,” he said.
Chiwenga also described the incident as an act of terror.
“That act of terrorism that happened in Bulawayo is nothing and it does not deter any, but if the colleagues running in the harmonised elections on 30 July are afraid and scared, they will be given security. The police will hunt down the criminals, and they will be brought before the law, but this does not stop anything. We must all continue to campaign peacefully because we want an election which is free from violence fair and credible.”
Yesterday, government offered an as yet to be disclosed reward to anyone with information relating to the attack.
Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba told journalists in Harare yesterday that a “substantial reward has been offered” for someone with information leading to the arrest of the suspects.
“The Zimbabwe Republic Police is, therefore, appealing for more information to aid the ongoing inquiries. A substantial reward is being offered and anyone with information should contact CID (Central Investigations Department), the national complaints desk or the nearest police station,” Charamba said at a press briefing.
Charamba said the number of those injured had risen from 41 to 49 and was expected to go up.
She could, however, not be drawn into revealing the quantum of the reward but insisted “it is quite substantial.” Charamba also appealed to the media for videos of the rally to help police with investigations.
Health minister David Parirenyatwa said he had visited one of three seriously injured victims at Mpilo Central Hospital.
“There were three people seriously injured. I have just visited one of them who were left with his guts out; we hope he will be well. He has been operated on. The other two have head and leg injuries respectively,” he said.
An unidentified device detonated as Mnangagwa and his top lieutenants were leaving the podium at the end of the rally, leaving dozens injured some with broken limbs.
Amateur videos showed a plume of dust going up into the air seconds after Mnangagwa alighted from the staircase and just as Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga was about to make his way out.
Chiwenga’s wife, Marry was reportedly hit by shrapnel from the blast along with Mohadi, Muchinguri and Deputy Speaker of Parliament Mabel Chinomona.
Mpilo Hospital health clinical director, Solwayo Ngwenya said of the 29 people admitted at the hospital, 13 were discharged on Saturday night.
“Twenty-nine people were admitted at the hospital on Saturday, 13 were discharged after receiving treatment while 16 are still admitted,” Ngwenya said.
Asked about the degree of the injuries, Ngwenya said some of the injured were yet to go for surgery, while others were in intensive care.
“There are some with life-threatening injuries as well as some with life-changing injuries. Some of them underwent surgery last night and were in the intensive care and more are still to go for surgeries for broken limbs,” Ngwenya said.
Several opposition parties, churches, civil society groups, foreign diplomats and regional bodies condemned the attack, saying it was likely to stoke violence ahead of next month’s general elections.
Main opposition MDC-T and MDC Alliance presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa said violence had no place in Zimbabwean politics.
African Union Commission chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, yesterday said the attack was unjustified under any circumstances.
“The chairperson of the commission reiterates the importance of the elections scheduled for July 30, 2018. Their successful conduct will mark a major step in the efforts to enhance democracy and the rule of law in Zimbabwe.
“It should be recalled that, in response to the request made by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) during the chairperson’s visit to Harare in February 2018, the African Union Commission has extended technical assistance to the Zec. A team of observers will also be deployed to observe the elections,” he said.
South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is also chair of the Southern African Development Community said the bloc would evaluate the incident and “take appropriate steps”.
Ramaphosa added that acts of violence and criminality had no place in the democratic process of any sovereign state within the region.
The United States embassy in Harare also denounced the attack.
“Political violence in any form is unacceptable and contrary to the positive progress required to move Zimbabwe forward as it seeks to take its place on the global stage. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and their families,” the embassy said in a statement.