<strong>BULAWAYO - </strong>An explosion rocked a star rally addressed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa yesterday, in a surprise development that is set to rattle an otherwise peaceful election campaign — the most peaceful the country has ever had since the 1960s.</p>
Mnangagwa’s campaign team has called the incident an assassination attempt on the 75-year-old former guerrilla leader after shots were fired.
Mnangagwa, who is leading in opinion polls ahead of his main challenger Nelson Chamisa of the MDC Alliance, was getting off the stage at White City Stadium — escorted by secret service agents — when shots were fired and there was a blast near him, adjacent to the front of the stage.
The blast went off moments after he had stepped off the stage accompanied by his deputies, Constantino Chiwenga and Kembo Mohadi, along with other party officials.
As Mnangagwa, Chiwenga, Mohadi and other officials made their way off to waiting vehicles, the blast blew off the steps, sending fragments that injured several aides, Zanu PF officials and supporters.
The injured lay on the ground after the blast — seemingly left for dead.
Mohadi was said to have been injured along with Water, Environment and Climate minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri but the extent of the injuries could not be ascertained as the area was quickly cordoned off by security aides.
The incident happened soon after Mohadi had finished giving a vote of thanks.
Chaos and confusion engulfed the stadium, particularly at the high table as stampede ensured as officials ran all over for dear cover.
Thousands of Zanu PF supporters and journalists were caught up in the confusion as many lay on the ground, others stampeding towards the exits to escape what many, at first, thought were gunshots.
The military personnel quickly reacted to give first aid to those who had been injured.
Immediately, the presidential guard cordoned off the area and chased away people who were now coming back to ascertain what could have happened.
The area became tense as the gun-wielding military was all over ordering everyone to vacate the venue.
Several ambulances could be seen ferrying the injured to a local private hospital.
The injured, including some VIP officials, were reportedly rushed to the Catholic-run hospital Mater Dei, where the casualty unit was cordoned off by heavy security.
Mnangagwa, who ascended the throne through a soft coup that toppled long-ruling despot Robert Mugabe, was said to be safe.
While frantic efforts to reach presidential spokesperson George Charamba were futile with his mobile was unreachable, he later said in a statement: “President Mnangagwa has not been injured and is at Bulawayo State House. Investigations are underway and more details will be given to the public. There have been multiple attempts on the president’s life over the past five years.”
He said the incident was now a police issue.
Police spokesperson Charity Charamba was not taking calls when the Daily News on Sunday attempted to inquire if there had been any arrests.
Yesterday, Chamisa described the explosion as a “terrible event”.
“Our prayers go out to the injured and we hope no lives have been lost. Violence must have no place in our politics. May God bless and protect the country we all love,” he said in a social media post.
Mnangagwa has travelled around the nation, promising to address grievances and revive a stuttering economy and address political and civil rights.
Earlier on Friday, Mnangagwa had addressed a rally at Phelandaba Stadium in Gwanda, the scene of an August 12, 2017 presidential youth interface rally where he claimed there was an attempt on his life by political rivals who allegedly slipped a potentially lethal poison into the food he consumed there.
Former first lady Grace Mugabe publicly denied that she was behind the attempted poisoning of her biggest rival to succeed her husband, angrily dismissing the allegations as “nonsensical”.
About three months after the poisoning incident, Mugabe dismissed Mnangagwa as his deputy, forcing the 75-year-old politician to skip the country for fear of being eliminated physically.
He only returned to Zimbabwe after the military intervened through an exercise code-named Operation Restore Legacy that targeted “criminals” around Mugabe.
In 2014, Mugabe claimed that assassins had tried to kill Mnangagwa, then recently appointed as the president’s deputy, by sprinkling poisonous powder on his desk.
His secretary inhaled the poison and was taken into intensive care.
Yesterday’s explosion is likely to increase political tensions before general elections expected on July 30.
This also comes just after main opposition leader Chamisa has sensationally claimed that rivals were pulling everything out of their bag of tricks to deny his MDC Alliance victory at the forthcoming polls, including attempts on his life.
The MDC Alliance presidential candidate made the claims while addressing party supporters in the resort town of Victoria Falls last weekend.
Chamisa claimed to have gathered intelligence to the effect that Mnangagwa’s administration has put together a team of security agents to snoop on him ahead of the crunch elections slated for July 30 and could not rule out that their brief included taking his life.
“I hear they have set up teams that are following me but they won’t succeed in their mission because I have an angelic ark that is around me, so these earthly attempts will fail even if they want to kill me,” said the 40-year-old presidential hopeful.
Home Affairs minister Obert Mpofu dismissed his assertions claiming his fears were unfounded “especially when one considers the fact that the president has opened up political space and Chamisa is having a free rein, campaigning anywhere, anytime”.
The former ICT minister said he will not be afraid to travel around the country on his own, adding that even if he becomes president of the republic he will surround himself with a few bodyguards.