RELATIONS between President-elect Emmerson Mnangagwa’s administration and the European Union (EU) hit a new low yesterday, with the influential bloc’s point person in Harare, Philippe van Damme, accusing the Zanu PF leader of lying over post-election violence in the country.
Brick-bats flew in all directions as the fall-out over a deteriorating rights situation in the aftermath of a hotly-contested election reached a tipping point between Harare and Brussels.
The angry exchange came following Mnangagwa’s sensational claims that his government had not issued orders to the military to use live ammunition, and that Van Damme had, in fact, apologised after failing to prove reports of post-election abuses.
The Zanu PF leader, who came to power on the back of a military operation last November and claimed a narrow electoral victory in the July 30 election that is being challenged by his nemesis MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa at the Constitutional Court, claimed in a recent interview with Independent Foreign Service journalist Peta Thornycroft that Van Damme apologised to him after failing to find proof of victimised citizens on hospitals beds.
He accused civil society groups of fronting a regime change agenda, describing claims of post-election retributive attacks as mere speculation that should be dismissed.
“Let me assure you, the best thing to do is get the list of 150 cases and pass it onto us. This is fake news and it’s flying left, right and centre. We were told (of these cases) by Philippe van Damme, the EU ambassador here, and we took him to task and said let’s go around all the hospitals in Harare and see if there is any record of people in hospitals. He had to later apologise as this was not true,” Mnangagwa reportedly said.
But Van Damme took exception to the remarks and hit back on micro blogging site, Twitter, saying he did not apologise for raising concern over the post-election violence targeted at opposition activists.
“Not sure where you get that from. Ridiculous. Civil society has documented cases of human rights abuses and retribution. We do not apologise, but on the contrary, urge authorities to take these cases seriously. Police has to enquire and protect victims and witnesses,” Van Damme.
Justice minister Ziyambi Ziyambi defended Mnangagwa, with his own verbal salvo at the EU envoy.
“What is also ridiculous is that Van Damme came to my office too and I asked him if he had the evidence, and he did not have it,” Ziyambi said.
The Zanu PF official said soldiers were dealt with using internal processes and findings of an internal enquiry ordered by Mnangagwa would be made known.
“At this stage, it is premature to tell you what is happening behind closed doors. What is apparent is that there was an external order and it has to be probed. It is, however, premature to comment on that,” Ziyambi said.
MDC Alliance spokesperson Thabitha Khumalo accused Mnangagwa of trying to abrogate responsibility for the fatal shootings and failing to uphold the country’s Constitution that grants rights to protest.
“Soldiers work from orders of their commanders and Mnangagwa is the Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces,” she said.
National Patriotic Front spokesperson Jealousy Mawarire also blasted Mnangagwa, accusing him of being dishonest.
“Mnangagwa is responsible for the death of the innocent people,” Mawarire said.
“If (Police Commissioner-General Godwin) Matanga usurped the powers of the Commander-In-Chief and staged a coup, so he should be charged with treason. However, what is clear is that Mnangagwa, as usual, is refusing to take responsibility for actions he ordered.”
Political analyst Gladys Hlatywayo said Mnangagwa’s claims were shameful and an attempt to take Zimbabweans and the international community for fools.
“If the soldiers were not ordered by anyone, why is it they have been shielded from accountability? We saw how the State was quick to arrest opposition leaders over the same matter and yet nothing has been done to soldiers who killed unarmed civilians in cold blood,” Hlatywayo said.
Another political analyst Maxwell Saungweme said the conduct of the soldiers showed they were operating under command to execute a planned mission.
“If he [Mnangagwa] as Commander-in-Chief said they were not ordered by anyone, the questions then are who ordered them? What happened to these renegade soldiers who acted in uniform with that official order?” Saungweme asked.
Reward Mushayabasa, a former mass communications lecturer at the Harare Polytechnic who is now based in the United Kingdom, said Mnangagwa’s remarks over the shootings confirmed fears that there were now two centres of power in government.
Blessing Vava, another political commentator, accused Mnangagwa of being economical with the truth, saying soldiers only work under command.