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Words matter, political leaders must exercise restraint

President Emmerson Mnangagwa

IT is becoming increasingly clear that Zimbabwe is heading for a difficult period leading up to the elections likely to be held sometime next year.

From obtaining indications, the election could be the bloodiest yet, thanks to politicians who are stocking hatred and violence against perceived opponents.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa and his ruling Zanu PF party have always claimed that Zimbabwe is at peace and is a peaceful country. Well, it has become difficult to persist with that narrative given the frequency with which the country’s top citizen is dishing out threats to everyone within earshot.

On Wednesday this week, this is what Mnangagwa said while addressing a group of people that gathered for the launch of the Teachers for Economic Development (ED) at the Harare International Conference Centre (HICC).

“We have the Zanu PF chairperson here (Oppah Muchinguri). You (Muchinguri) heard me telling them that the Zanu PF party supports them (teachers). Your children here (the teachers) have chosen to stand with us. Nurture and guide them. Anenge aita musikanzwa munoshunya hamunyanyi kurova (Those who would have shown errant behaviour, don’t beat them too much.)”

That is not an oblique statement, but a direct instruction to mete out violence against teachers and by extension those who are not seen to be actively supporting the ruling party.

At the weekend, this is what the President told supporters at a rally held in Mutasa: “Next year we will have elections starting from councillors, members of Parliament and President. Munotivimbisa here kuti mucharakasha twupwere utwu? (Do you promise us that next year you are going to destroy these opposition upstarts?) Hamuvarakashi chete munovasvasvanga. Svasvangai vanhu,” Mnangagwa said.

He may have been talking about beating the opposition via the ballot, but critics say his language was unfortunate and dangerous.

It is difficult to ignore that Mnangagwa is in fact, aware of the effect of his words that are aimed at impacting the current state of civic and political discourse.

He is actively using words as artillery to censure and undermine those he sees as not toeing the line. He is aggressively seeking to influence the thinking and actions of the supporters of his party towards those perceived to be in opposition or not buying into his agenda.

In both cases, he was aware of the composition of his audience and knew exactly the kind of message he wanted to convey.

Zanu PF has form in this respect.

In February, in the run-up to the March 26 by-elections, Vice-President Constantino Chiwenga told a campaign rally in Mbizo, Kwekwe, with Mnangagwa in attendance, that they would destroy the opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) like “lice”.

“You see how we crush lice with a stone. You put it on a flat stone and then flatten it to the extent that even flies will not make a meal out of it. That is what we are going to do to CCC,” he said.

A day later, a CCC supporter was killed, while 22 were admitted to Kwekwe General Hospital with serious injuries following at attack by known Zanu PF activists at a rally addressed by CCC leader Nelson Chamisa in the same suburb.

To Mnangagwa, Chiwenga and even those similar minded individuals in the opposition, we say words do matter because they are woven into our social and political lives, they are powerful weapons if not used responsibly.

When those in power or with political and social influence fail to exercise that obligation, Zimbabwe is left at the mercy of a violent lot, while those responsible utter pointless platitudes.

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