The Guardian Emmerson Mnangagwa unhurt by explosion at election rally that injured vice-president
Emmerson Mnangagwa, the president of Zimbabwe, has called for peace, love and unity hours after escaping an apparent assassination attempt during an election campaign rally in the southern city of Bulawayo.
At least 49 people were injured in the explosion, the state-run Herald newspaper reported.
Footage posted online showed Mnangagwa, 75, waving to the crowd in the White City stadium at about 2pm on Saturday afternoon, turning to step off the podium and walking into the open-sided VIP tent, where seconds later the explosion occurred. People ducked and screamed and smoke billowed. State television immediately cut its broadcast.
Images taken by photographers at the rally showed several injured people lying on the ground.
Local media said the vice-president, Kembo Mohadi, had leg injuries, while Constantino Chiwenga, a second vice-president and the former military commander-in-chief, had bruises on his face, the report said.
In a statement issued later in the afternoon, Mnangagwa said his thoughts and prayers were with “all those affected by this senseless act of violence.”
In November, Robert Mugabe was forced out of power after 37 years, following a peaceful military takeover supported by the vast majority of the 17 million population.
The poll on 30 July pits Zanu-PF, the ruling party, against the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the longstanding opposition.
Zanu-PF is led by Mnangagwa, a former vice-president known as the Crocodile who took power when Mugabe was ousted. Polls indicate a potentially close race, but one that Zanu-PF should win. Though hard fought, the campaign so far has seen little of the violence associated with previous elections in Zimbabwe.
Past votes have been marked by systematic intimidation of the opposition and fraud, and the US and others have said a credible vote is key to lifting international sanctions.
“The campaign has so far been conducted in a free and peaceful environment, and we will not allow this cowardly act to get in our way as we move towards elections … Let us continue to be united and address our differences peacefully. The strongest response to violence is peace. The strongest response to hate is love,” Mnangagwa’s statement read.
There is no indication of who might be responsible for the attack. There have been frequent allegations of assassination attempts directed at Mnangagwa and other senior politicians, although these have not involved bombings or firearms.
“Investigations are under way and more details will be given to the public. There have been multiple attempts on the president’s life over the past five years,” said George Charamba, the president’s spokesman.
The consequences of the attack are unclear but could affect the ability of the opposition to campaign.
One opposition official, who did not want to be named, said he feared a “major crackdown” following the blast.
However Bulawayo, an opposition stronghold, remained calm on Saturday night with no evidence of reinforced security forces or operations, local journalists said.
Mnangagwa said on Twitter that he was awaiting further information about the blast but added, without elaborating, that those responsible must have come from “outside Bulawayo.” He added: “I can assure you these are my normal enemies.”
The November crisis was the culmination of a lengthy power struggle between a faction of young politicians led by Mugabe’s wife, Grace, and supporters of Manangagwa.
So far the political environment in Zimbabwe is dramatically improved compared with previous elections. Respected human rights activists in Zimbabwe say that levels of harassment or intimidation remain relatively low.
The MDC is holding rallies in Zanu-PF strongholds where previously it feared to set foot and has been allowed to march through central Harare.
Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, said on Twitter: “Our prayers go out to the injured and we hope no lives have been lost. Violence must have no place in our politics. ”
Opinion of Mnangagwa is divided among western diplomats and analysts in Harare.
Some are convinced the president wants to be seen as the statesman who has restored democracy in Zimbabwe and who would step down if defeated. Others say Mnangagwa, known as the Crocodile, “does not have a democratic bone in his body”, but has pragmatically recognised the need to win international legitimacy if his country is to access the financial assistance it so desperately needs.
Zimbabwe last had blasts at rallies in the 1980s, which had targeted Mugabe.