<strong>HARARE</strong> - President Emmerson Mnangagwa has come under huge pressure to sack under fire junior minister Terence Mukupe over a litany of controversial actions and statements that he has made in recent weeks, which have caused palpable anger among many Zimbabweans.</p>
It didn’t help matters that Mukupe issued an equally controversial apology yesterday, which only served to inflame emotions further as both ordinary citizens and politicians alike dismissed it as a “half hearted” attempt at best to justify his unacceptable lack of decorum.
Just this past week alone, the MP for Harare East constituency was involved in three not so flattering incidents — including making reckless claims that the military would not accept youthful MDC Alliance presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa as the country’s new leader if he were to win the country’s impending national elections.
That ill-conceived statement forced Mnangagwa and his senior aides to publicly rebuke Mukupe. But no sooner had this happened before he provoked yet more anger after he stigmatised people living with HIV/Aids during a chaotic radio debate with former Finance minister Tendai Biti.
Later, Mukupe was also accused of assaulting the wife of a local journalist and “stealing” her mobile phone — ratcheting up the already growing calls for his dismal from the government.
“While due process demands that these allegations be verified, at the very least this man (Mukupe) should be suspended by President Mnangagwa.
“This comes on the back of the exposure of his comments … stating what we all know — namely that having seized power through an illegal coup last November the military aren’t now just going to hand it over on a platter to Nelson Chamisa and the MDC Alliance.
“In one sense, Mukupe is just being honest — although rather foolish, all he has done is confirm what we already know,” former Education minister David Coltart said.
“However there are still those — both citizens and some in the international community — who believe that a leopard can change its spots. Even some seasoned diplomats and ministers of democratic countries repeat the mantra that they expect free and fair elections to be held.
“If President Mnangagwa does not act vigorously to investigate and then dismiss Minister Mukupe — and the others who have spoken treasonously (for that is what refusing to respect the democratic will of the people is) — then he will simply confirm that his own undertakings to hold a free, fair and credible election are just a sham,” Coltart added on social media.
Piers Pigou, a senior consultant for the International Crisis Group, told the Daily News on Sunday yesterday that Mukupe was “not fit to remain in office”, warning Mnangagwa further that failure to act on him would send the “wrong message that there is nothing new about the new dispensation”.
“Mnangagwa has an opportunity to demonstrate decisive leadership and Mukupe should be dismissed. There is, however, little evidence of basic notions of political accountability for such irresponsible statements from members of an executive whose leadership is trying hard to demonstrate that it has changed.
“These are highly irresponsible statements and demonstrate that he (Mukupe) is not for and proper for public office. Is this a face the new administration wishes to support?
“For many, Mukupe's comments also reflect Zanu PF's DNA, something they have got used to. As such, these utterances are not that surprising,” said.
Vice president of the MDC splinter group led by Thokozani Khupe, Obert Gutu, also said bluntly that Mukupe should “either resign or be sacked” over his comments on anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs.
“It's a total shame for any one, more so a public figure and government minister, to stigmatise people living with HIV.
“Assuming that he has got a sense of responsibility, which doesn't appear likely from his numerous public gaffes, Mukupe should just proceed to do the honourable thing and immediately resign as a government minister and Member of Parliament.
“If he doesn't resign voluntarily, then President Mnangagwa should sack him forthwith,” Gutu thundered.
“Surely, if Webster Shamu could be sacked for attempting to rig a party primary election, why should Mukupe remain in government after committing an even more serious and catastrophic transgression? Is Mukupe untouchable and if so, why?” he added.
Mukupe stoked passions further yesterday when he sought to minimise the damage of his actions and recent utterances by issuing a controversial statement “apologising” for his actions — but which many ordinary people said was a crass attempt to justify the very same things which he was trying to distance himself from.
“I feel it is of the utmost importance to apologise and clarify on some statements that have been misinterpreted and in some cases deliberately distorted and misrepresented. First of all I deny categorically that I ever insinuated that the military would take sides in the upcoming hamornised elections.
“In November of last year, the military stood with the people in their cry for freedom, they stood with the leadership of now president ED (Emmerson Dambudzo) Mnangagwa, and now they will stand with the people once again as they help secure our country in the build up to elections.
“I am a passionate supporter of both the president and our highly professional military, and for that I will never apologise,” he said, notwithstanding that his comments on the military were captured on video.
In the video clip that circulated widely on social media, Mukupe stated categorically that the army would not allow the opposition to lead the country.
“How can we say honestly the soldiers took the country, practically snatched it from (former president Robert) Mugabe, to come and hand it over to Chamisa?
“Look at me, I also want to be a president. There is no one who does not want to sit in the (Mercedes) Benz while sirens are sounding all the way, but everything has its time.
“I don’t think that I am mature enough to be given the country to run and all the soldiers in this country salute me saying the commander-in-chief is here,” Mukupe is shown saying in the damning video evidence.
Last week the government described Mukupe’s statements on the army as “reckless and unlawful”.
“Consequently any pronouncements which have the effect of undermining the supreme law of the land and the authority of the Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Force, or of suggesting that our well-respected security organs will act in partisan manner in relation to the country’s politics, apart from being unauthorised, are unlawful, reckless, improper, uncalled for and thus totally condemnable,” acting Information minister Simon Khaya Moyo said.
Mukupe also attempted to apologise in his statement over the remarks which he made during his interview with Biti, although he began that part with a justification.
“Though I was abused and insulted by the tone and content of Mr. Biti’s interview, I should not have responded in such a way, and I apologise for the offence I have caused for the remarks I made pertaining to ARVs,” he said.
Mukupe has attracted so much negative attention in the last few weeks.
Last month, he briefly snatched a ballot box during the Zanu PF primary elections in Harare East constituency, amid widespread complaints that he had manipulated cell registers.
Mukupe had also in full view of journalists and police assaulted his rival’s driver before speeding away — causing pandemonium.
Mukupe’s rival in those primary polls, Mavis Gumbo, was forced to flee the scene in fear, at which point many people also left the polling station.
The temperamental Mukupe was also fined by police this year after he admitted to assaulting a finance director in his ministry over travel allowances.