Zimbabwe Explosion Hits Presidential Rally

Jun 23, 2018
Originally published on June 25, 2018 9:50 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. In Zimbabwe today, an explosion went off at a presidential campaign rally, injuring some members of the cabinet. NPR's Ari Shapiro was there as part of a reporting project. His team left the rally shortly before the blast. They are all safe, and he sends us this report from Zimbabwe.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: This is a key moment for Zimbabwe. Next month, people will vote for president. And for the first time in the country's history, Robert Mugabe is not on the ballot. Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe as an autocrat for nearly 40 years. Last November, the military forced him out and put Emmerson Mnangagwa in his place.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT EMMERSON MNANGAGWA: From now on, Zimbabwe is open for business.

SHAPIRO: Mnangagwa promises that the battle days of the Mugabe era are gone. Before the bomb went off at today's rally in the city of Bulawayo, thousands of supporters cheered and danced to a song that celebrated the arrival of a hero. They waved green flags and wore yellow shirts with Mnangagwa's face.

(CHEERING)

SHAPIRO: President Mnangagwa joked about Mugabe, calling him an old man, and the crowd laughed. That would have been unimaginable just a year ago. Mnangagwa referred to violence that has haunted past elections and insisted that this time will be different, even though some of those sitting on stage with him would be in a hospital just hours later.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MNANGAGWA: We don't need any violence at all - unity, love, and the peace.

SHAPIRO: Mnangagwa's critics say this is hypocrisy. He was Mugabe's fixer and enforcer for decades. In the 1980s, he ran state security during a period of massacres by the Zimbabwean army known as the Gukurahundi. As many as 20,000 people were killed. Maybe half an hour after the president finished speaking, his Cabinet was filing off the stage when there was a loud boom. We had already left. Rayner Marima was still in the crowd.

RAYNER MARIMA: So, first of all, people thought maybe it's a speaker or there's an electrical fault.

SHAPIRO: Then he saw the people lying on the ground, bleeding. He says he personally saw around 20 people injured. Medics were overwhelmed.

MARIMA: I rushed in there and we're helping what we could. And the other thing is that most of the medics were young girls, so they couldn't carry the stretchers, so we then took over and helped them with it.

SHAPIRO: The ambulances had already left with a VIPs, so Marima put four people in his car and drove them to the hospital himself. The sleeves of his white shirt are bloodstained as we talk.

What do you make of this?

MARIMA: Senseless. I think the other thing also is that maybe the president has been too friendly. And, of course, we don't want a security state, but sometimes...

SHAPIRO: Everybody has talked about this period in Zimbabwe, since Mugabe left, as a period of openness. Do you think that's about to change?

MARIMA: I hope not.

SHAPIRO: It's not clear whether this was an assassination attempt against the president. Local media are describing it that way. His spokesman pointed out that there have been multiple attempts on Mnangagwa's life over the years. A few days before this attack, I spoke with Eldred Masunungure. He's a political scientist who directs the Mass Public Opinion Institute in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital.

ELDRED MASUNUNGURE: There is an embedded fear in the Zimbabweans. Most Zimbabweans, they are skeptical. They are saying, can this be true? Can Zimbabwe have peaceful election, free and fair election, a credible election, transparent election, or is this too good to be true? Is this calm before the storm?

SHAPIRO: Zimbabweans hope today's explosion was not the beginning of the storm. Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.