By Richard Chidza
PRESIDENT Emmerson Mnangagwa says he has no basis to hold talks with MDC leader Nelson Chamisa as long as the opposition politician does not recognise him as the country’s legitimate leader.
He also said the use of lethal force by the military to crackdown on dissent was justified.
Rights groups say at least 12 people were killed by security forces when a three-day strike called by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) over a 150% fuel prices hike announced by Mnangagwa turned into violence and looting. Police have said only three people, including a law enforcement official, died and that over 1 000 people were arrested.
The brutal suppression of the protests has led to comparisons with the dark days of Mnangagwa’s predecessor Robert Mugabe, who was removed from office in a coup in November 2017. With inflation at a 10-year high of 42,09%, a chronic cash shortage and regular increases in the prices of goods and services biting, while salaries have stagnated, Zimbabweans have lost patience with Mnangagwa.
The President defended the army’s actions, which witnesses say included night-time raids on homes of and arbitrary assaults of alleged protesters.
“We have been accused of using disproportionate force, but these protesters were burning down police stations and various infrastructure, including toll-gates along our highways,” he told a group of journalists at State House on Wednesday.
“I am not sure how we were supposed to respond to that. Western countries, in particular, have raised concerns. Of course, we regret the loss of life, but we needed to protect
property as well as other citizens not involved in the protests. We have told the Western countries that they cannot turn around and raise concerns when they are the ones sponsoring the violence.”
For the first time, the Zanu PF leader responded directly to repeated calls by Chamisa for dialogue to resolve Zimbabwe’s political logjam in the aftermath of last year’s presidential election narrowly won by Mnangagwa, but challenged by the opposition.
Chamisa approached the Constitutional Court in a bid to overturn the electoral outcome, but the petition was dismissed for lack of evidence by the apex court. But the opposition leader has maintained he won the election and wants Mnangagwa to relinquish power.
The MDC leader early this week told journalists that Mnangagwa’s legitimacy would be key to dialogue.
While Chamisa claims he has written officially to Mnangagwa requesting a meeting, the Zanu PF leader said he had not seen any correspondence.
“I have not seen any letter,” he said curtly.
“I hear there are talks going on and this only in the media. I even have had to ask our party officials whether they have been in talks with the MDC behind my back. They are also surprised,” the Zanu PF leader said.
“I have never refused to talk and that is why after I came into office, you have seen me talking to all people from students, industry, the church, political parties and even traditional leaders. We continue to talk for the good of our country and my door is open. I, however, do not understand how he (Chamisa) would want to talk to me when he claims I am illegitimate. It implies that the talks will be illegitimate.”
Mnangagwa accused the United States of seeking to “install a pliable administration in Zimbabwe”.
“They don’t care about human rights; that is why you find that they support some countries with clear democratic deficits. It’s about US interests and if we were pliable and accept to be used, our country would not be in these problems. The Western media also turn perpetrators of violence and destruction into victims. But they don’t show the destruction of property and direct threat to the stability of our country they caused,” he said.
Mnangagwa also laughed at reports that there were divisions between him and Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga. “The people who talk about these divisions, what example do they give? I have known Chiwenga and his colleagues [in the military] since the struggle years. We are comrades and understand each other better than you all think.
“Somebody actually told me while I was in Eurasia that I would be barred from returning home and I just laughed that off,” Mnangagwa said with a chuckle.