By Dr Tafataona Mahoso
THE attempt to assassinate President Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa and his presidium at White City Stadium in Bulawayo on Saturday, June 23 2018 attracted condemnation from all corners of the country and from many capitals.
The President himself described the attack as an assassination bid. His deputy, General Constantino Guveya Chiwenga (Rtd), defined it as a terrorist act.
What was remarkable about most responses to the attack was the almost universal recognition of it as a national and international matter requiring the setting aside of all petty differences of race, opinion, religion or party affiliation in order to face it and deal with it for what it was — an affront to humanity and an attempt to derail democratic elections.
The response of the ZANU-PF Bulawayo Province represented by Chairman Dr Callistus Ndhlovu was consistent with this global unanimity about how the attack should be viewed pending a police report.
It is in this context that responses of a few so-called intellectual and cultural leaders from Matabeleland stood out as shockingly regionalist if not tribalist.
According to The Daily News of June 25 2018, Continueloving ‘Cont’ Mhlanga said, among other things:
“What is going on is simply the climax of ZANU PF factionalism. Let us not dismiss that. Remember, the actions have always been over power… This is a war with deep seated roots and they are dating back to the death of (retired) General Solomon Mujuru. These are internal enemies but fortunately or unfortunately it’s the factional characters that have changed… I am talking of militarized personnel who are inside the system…”
Mhlanga is said to have then tried to link his regional perspective to the issue of Gukurahundi.
Then Zenzele Ndebele is said to have also commented along regionalist lines, saying:
“It (the assassination attempt) shows that something is not right within ZANU PF; it points to serious internal fights… But again the question is: Why are ZANU PF people bringing their squabbles to Matabeleland?”
Another so-called analyst in Bulawayo, one Mbuso Fuzwayo of Ibhetshu Likazulu, is reported by the same paper as saying:
“My reading of the situation is that this is an internal thing which has got nothing to do with the people of Matabeleland.”
This framing of the terror attack is peculiar from a region which has also tried to make Gukurahundi not just a national question but a global one.
This peculiar frame ignores the Unity Accord of December 21 1987 between ZANU PF and PF-ZAPU; it ignores the fact that military personnel and the police must work in terms of a national Constitution which has a whole Chapter Two called National Objectives.
It ignores that the PF in ZANU PF stands for a Patriotic Front formed in 1976 with the aim of defeating factionalism, tribalism and regionalism for the sake of a liberated and united Zimbabwe.
Once an act has been defined as terrorism, most people think in terms of law, both national and international.
Section 801 of the US Patriot Act elevates terror attacks of the kind we saw at White City Stadium to the level of federal crimes, which means that it becomes the duty of the federal government of the entire union of 50 states to prosecute such cases. They are not left to states or counties (districts) to deal with.
That same Section 801 defines a domestic terrorist as:
“Whoever wilfully wrecks, derails, sets fire to, or disables a mass transportation vehicle or ferry; whoever sets fire to or places … a destructive substance, or destructive device in or upon or near any garage, terminal, structure, supply or facility used in the operation of a mass transportation vehicle or system;
whoever removes fixtures from or damages, or otherwise impairs the operation of a mass transportation signal system;
whoever interferes with, or disables a dispatcher, a driver, a captain or any person employed to operate or direct a public transport vehicle or system;
whoever commits an act, including the use of a dangerous weapon, with the intent to cause death or serious bodily injury to an employee or passenger of a public transport system;
whoever conveys or causes to be conveyed a false alarm about impending danger or damage on a public transport vehicle;”
Section 802 of the same US Patriot Act further defines acts of domestic terrorism as:
“Those wilful criminal acts dangerous to human life, committed primarily within the US, that appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population, or to influence a government policy by intimidation or coercion, or to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination or kidnapping.”
The Terrorism Act of 2000 of the United Kingdom says:
“Terrorism means the use or threat of action where
(a) the use or threat is designed to influence the government or intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
(b) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.
The same Act provides that an action falls within this definition of terrorism if it:
(a) involves serious violence against a person,
(b) involves serious damage to property, and
(c) endangers a person’s life other than that of the person committing the action.
What was wrong with the alleged comments from some analysts and intellectuals in Bulawayo is their implying that we think of region, political party, faction or even tribe before we confront and condemn an act of terror for what it is.
The Constitution does not call upon us first to think of party, region, tribe or faction and then decide whether or not to recognise the other person’s right to life and other rights and privileges under law.
The alleged existence of factions in ZANU-PF cannot justify looking the other way from an act of terror.
Even if the people hurt at White City Stadium were foreigners, our laws and international law would still bind us to protect and defend them first and foremost and to condemn acts of terror against them.
Apart from the framework of international and national laws against terrorism, there is also the framework of national interest and national objectives as articulated in our Constitution.
The strategy of labelling national leaders as faction leaders in order to dismiss the common interests, programmes and values they stand for is a well-tried strategy of the enemy of the people.
First, the focus shifts from policies and objectives to persons or small groups of persons.
Second, the persons or groups come to be seen as fighting or disagreeing with others for the purpose merely of winning power or stopping the other party for personal or factional reasons unrelated to national goals or interests, since the interests are not identified or analysed.
Third, once the readers and viewers of the various faction-mongering media accept the presumed reality of the ‘factions’, the bases of alleged disagreement or conflict cease to make news, so that if they are found in the same room or if they just shake hands or call each other on the phone, these events become the real news, not the national objectives, not the national interests at stake, and not the common interests of all the people.
In this way, a whole agenda or even a movement of critical historical importance may be dismantled or even destroyed.
Fourth, the displacement or destruction of the common interests or objectives is achieved by fomenting and intensifying so-called ‘factional conflict’ with the emphasis now placed on jealousies, grudges, envy and even hatred rather than on collective national objectives.
Fifth, once the faction-mongers succeed in fomenting jealousies, envy and hatred, the enemies of the same people may create and deploy intermediaries whose only ‘achievement’ will be to get the so-called ‘factions’ or ‘sides’ just to meet, to be photographed in the same room or to be seen shaking hands, far away from their original common objectives which caused them to organise in the first place.
The Sunnis and Shiites of Iraq who lived together for millennia are presented as being brought together by the racist British and their North American cousins in the post-invasion Iraq.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair applied to be appointed Special Middle East Envoy, supposedly in order to bring together peoples whom the British and the North Americans have been busy dividing and arming against one another since the First World War.
In short, the effect of dismissing what happened at White City Stadium (the way those commentators did) is to obscure or denigrate the values and interests at stake; the values and interests which the President and his team stand for, the programmes for which or against which people will vote on July 30 2018.