Zambians protest ZANU PF ‘death threats’ against their president

Zambians protest ZANU PF ‘death threats’ against their president

By DW News

A diplomatic standoff has escalated between the Southern African nation of Zambia and its neighbor, Zimbabwe.

Supporters of Zambian President Hakainde Hichilema have been protesting reported death threats against him — which allegedly originated from within Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF.

The reported threats allegedly stemmed from a scathing report on Zimbabwe’s August poll that was released two weeks ago by the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) election observer mission to Zimbabwe.

The SADC’s report — which was presented by its mission chairperson Nevers Mumba, who had served as Zambia’s eighth vice president — concluded that the Zimbabwean election did not meet the required transparency standards, a view strongly contested by the ZANU-PF party of reelected Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

International observers had also criticized the election, citing an atmosphere of intimidation against the opposition before and during the vote, harsh security laws, the banning of opposition meetings and rallies, and public media bias.

In response, ZANU-PF and Mnangagwa described the SADC’s Mumba and Zambia’s Hichilema as “Western puppets.” Both Zambia and Zimbabwe are SADC member countries.

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa delivers a speech during his inauguration ceremony
The reelection of Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa has been contested internationallyImage: Tsvangirayi Mukwazh/AP Photo/picture alliance

‘Ludicrous accusations’

Elisha Matamba, Zambia’s Provincial Minister for Copperbelt, said that he would inform the SADC, the African Union (AU), and the UN about the alleged threats made against Hichilema.

“I will first take the petition to the foreign affairs minister so that they can use diplomatic channels to address this issue with SADC, AU, and ultimately the UN,” he said.

“Zimbabwe and Zambia are like twins, they are like sisters — we have enjoyed peace for many years.”

Farai Muroiwa Marapira, ZANU-PF’s information director, maintained that, while they disagreed with the election report, it should not be interpreted as hostility between Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“We have no wish to influence or change the leadership of any country, anywhere,” he told DW.

“So when we come across such ludicrous accusations, we find them laughable,” Marapira added.

“We are not bothered. We are simply going to ignore them with the disdain they deserve. Claims that we might be trying to influence another country’s affairs are absurd. We hold no grudges against any country. We only seek respect for our sovereignty.”

In Harare, the ZANU-PF party denied any diplomatic fallout with Zambia.

Hichilema has yet to comment on the unfolding diplomatic tension — and his counterpart, Emmerson Mnangagwa, has remained tight-lipped on the issue.

Zimbabwe's deposed late ruler Robert Mugabe
Mnangagwa’s rise to the presidency came following decades of working closely with Zimbabwe’s deposed late ruler Robert MugabeImage: Reuters/M. Hutschings

Political arm wrestling

Harare-based independent political analyst Gibson Nyikadzino views the ongoing tension as a kind of contest between the two countries’ ruling parties.

“It’s uncertain whether this has escalated into a diplomatic dispute,” he told DW. “They have mechanisms to address their differences at the government level, and hopefully, this will lead to mutual understanding at a party level.”

Boniface Cheembe, the executive director of the NGO Southern African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes, emphasized the need for swift political attention to defuse an imminent diplomatic standoff.

“We appeal to both President Hakainde Hichilema of the Republic of Zambia and President Emerson Mnangagwa of the Republic of Zimbabwe to prevail upon their people, call for calm, urge restraint, and ensure that the cordial relations between Zambia and Zimbabwe continue to endure,” Cheembe told DW.

Can the dispute undermine the SADC?

Despite historically close ties between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the stalemate could undermine the unity and collaboration of the SADC.

According to international policy expert Lwazi Somya, the situation in Zimbabwe has long caused tensions within the SADC.

“During the tenure of Robert Mugabe, President Ian Khama was very critical of ZANU-PF and the Zimbabwean government,” he explained in a DW interview.

“Now in this instance, President Hichilema has taken upon a more fundamentalist role in terms of upholding regional institutions and the law that governs the region. What is at stake here is whether or not the legacy and collaboration of former liberation movements will fundamentally undermine the institutional integrity of SADC.”

Guinea's junta leader Col. Mamady Doumbouya
ECOWAS imposed sanctions on members of Mali’s junta following a military coup in 2021Image: uncredited/AP/picture alliance

SADC needs to take a strong stand

Regional bodies need to take appropriate steps when a member breaks institutional rules and regulations, Somya emphasized.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), for example, imposed sanctions on Guinea and Mali after military coups in 2021, and against Niger after a coup this year.

“They have fundamentally kicked out of those countries and essentially limited trade with those countries,” Somya explained.

“In southern Africa, we have not seen the consequences, especially concerning the breaking of regional treaties and protocols. So it’s in order for SADC to redeem itself, the implementation of these various regional treaties and protocols is very critical, along with holding each other accountable.”

SADC now needs to take a strong stand, Somya suggested, as regional bodies were “built up by people we have democratically elected. We need to salvage the vision of our forebears who fought against apartheid and colonialism and realize those aspirations of democratic, free and fair societies.”

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