President Robert Mugabe warned the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Friday not to embark on a campaign of non-violent protest as called for by Morgan Tsvangirai, saying his government is ready and will “crush” any uprising.
The Zimbabwean chief of state was addressing mourners at the National Heroes Acre burial of Winston Changara, late commander of Mugabe’s police bodyguard.
Reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA’s Studio 7 for Zimbabwe reported on the warning from the president, who had not previously commented publicly on the protest call.
Some interpreted the president's words, delivered in the majority Shona language, as a threat against Tsvangirai's life. "We hear others say we want to go into the streets to demonstrate, to unseat a legitimately elected government. It will never happen and we will never allow it," the Web news service ZimOnline reported Mugabe as saying. "If a person now wants to invite his own death, let him go ahead," he added.
But others noted that the Shona expression Mugabe used was colloquial, and while clearly used in a threatening context did not amount to a death threat.
Despite warnings from the president and other senior officials since Tsvangirai issued his call for a new wave of protests, spokesman Nelson Chamisa of the Tsvangirai-led MDC faction told reporter Zulu that the opposition is determined to proceed.
Meanwhile, controversy continued over the politburo’s designation of Changara as a national hero while declining to bestow the honor on James Chikerema, who was even more prominent in the 1970s fight for black majority rule in what was then Rhodesia.
The decision sparked debate on the meaning to Zimbabweans of a liberation hero.
Chikerema, who died recently in the United States, was a founding member of the African National Congress and then of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union of Joshua Nkomo. Though a cousin to Mr. Mugabe, Chikerema was critical of the president and in 1993 helped start the opposition Forum Party of Zimbabwe.
His farm was one of the first listed for nationalization in 2000, leading Chikerema to speak bitterly at one point of “Mugabe’s vendetta” against him.
Reporter Patience Rusere of asked University of Zimbabwe political scientist Joseph Kurebwa for his perspective on the controversy over hero designation.