President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa addressed supporters of his party mid last week a few days after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission declared him winner of the just-ended elections.
He issued a chilling warning against “any chaos” or “hate speech” that could follow his electoral victory which is being contested by the opposition Citizens Coalition for Change party.
Mnangagwa, whose words and body language exuded anger and great urge to take action, said he would “carve out” and also jail anybody that tried to take “nonsensical” action to protest his victory. If anybody was not happy with his victory and wanted to voice out their displeasure, he said, they should do so silently. Otherwise there would be trouble.
He said: “We will not stop our development programmes because of noise from some little boys. They will continue making that noise, but we shall continue to move on. But I warn anybody who may want to be nonsensical and bring chaos to this country, that we are ready for any chaos.
“Whoever will preach hate speech shall be responsible for their hate speech. Our prisons are not full. We want peace; we want unity. Those that do not agree with us should do so quietly and we will move on together peacefully. Asi ukaita mhesva mukono, tinokuveza (but if you want to be an agitator, we will carve you out).”
While it is commendable to warn citizens against taking to violence to express displeasure at electoral outcomes, there is a danger that the choice of words and manner of their delivery could, on the contrary be provocative and in fact agitating to already angry citizens.
Hate speech that Mnangagwa is warning against, is indeed toxic and incites violence and intolerance, especially in the delicate post-election environment that Zimbabwe is in presently. But using equally toxic words and openly trampling on free expression as the president does, telling disgruntled citizens to complain silently, is counterproductive.
A balance must always be kept between fighting hate speech on the one hand and safeguarding freedom of speech on the other. Any restrictions on hate speech should not be misused to silence political opposition that may want to express themselves on the electoral process and the outcome of an election.
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Restrictions on hate speech should not include threatening citizens with all sorts of dangers including “carving them out”, whatever that means.
Yes, hate speech, in all its forms and from whoever seeks to spread it, must be nipped in the bud and avoided at all costs.
But there is no wisdom in using hate speech to fight hate speech.
We urge president Mnangagwa to be more magnanimous and accommodative rather than display combative anger while at the same time flaunting victory.