As hundreds gathered at the National Heroes Acres in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, to pay tribute to the nation’s fallen heroes, President Emmerson Mnangagwa used the occasion to appeal for peace and non-violence, in light of pending demonstrations Friday, called for by the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
“These heroes and heroines at this shrine, and others at marked and unmarked graves, both in Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, Botswana and Anglola, gave their lives to uphold this peace, this unity, freedom, justice and independence,” said Mnangagwa. “Let us honor them by dedicating ourselves to peace,” he appealed.
The planned demonstrations aim to pressure Mnangagwa and his government to rectify the economic crisis in the country, evidenced by shortages of water, electricity, fuel, cash and other necessities.
Mnangagwa has acknowledged the economic hardships gripping the country, and has said his government was working to resolve all these problems. However, he said, violence had no place in resolving the crisis.
“Violence, discord, disunity, hatred, divisions, discrimination, tribalism, regionalism, and corruption, must be rejected,” he continued.
The MDC, which challenged the results of last year’s presidential elections, claiming they were rigged, has continued to poke holes at Mnangagwa’s legitimacy, and has refused to engage him in dialogue, unless he concedes defeat.
Secretary general of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association (ZNLWVA) Victor Matemadanda, has criticized the MDC’s planned demonstrations, and vowed to stop them.
Matemadanda, who is also the deputy minister of defense, accused the MDC of violence, and disrespecting the country’s heroes and war veterans, by not participating in the Heroes Day festivities, though they were invited.
“They don’t see the relevance of (Heroes Day) because their agenda is different (from that the heroes who died for the country),” said Matemadanda. “We called them all and told them that this is not a day for the (Zanu-PF) party, it’s a day to celebrate the liberation of the country.”
Echoing Matemadanda’s statements, Lewis Matutu, secretary of the Zanu-PF Youth League said they were going to block the planned demonstrations so as to avoid violence.
“We saw what they did in the last demonstration – looting shops and stealing people’s things, breaking things, so we can’t allow them to do that again,” said Matutu, adding that they are not concerned that the demonstrations are sanctioned by the police.
“It doesn’t matter what the police have said, because we are not the police,”said Matutu. “That is for the government and security sector to worry about. Our interest is to make sure that the power we have as Zanu-PF is protected,” said Matutu.
However, MDC spokesperson Daniel Molokele dismissed Matemadanda and Matutu's threats to disrupt the demonstrations, promising that they will continue as planned, because the constitution gives them that right.
“As the MDC party, we are following the Constitution – Section 59 - which says that every Zimbabwean citizen has a right to demonstrate and hold peaceful petitions. That is what we will do on Friday,” said Molokele. “We are going ahead with our plans to hold a demonstration in Harare, on Friday,” Molokele said, and added that Zanu-PF was free to hold its own demonstrations under the same constitutional protection.a
Mnangagwa however warned that while his government respects human rights, citizens should not violate or abuse the rights of others.
Mnangagwa, officiating over the Heroes Day event for the first time as president after taking over power from longtime leader President Robert Mugabe, who had officiated over the events for 37-years, also praised the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission for reigning in corruption by arresting those found to be guilty, including officials in his government.
On the celebrations to mark Hero’s Day, which was observed under the theme, “Let We Forget,” Mnangagwa stressed the importance of mainting peace in the country, which he said was what the war of liberation was fought for,.
Mnangagwa also said his government was not backtracking on the issue of land, but acknowledged that a major task for the government was to ensure that electricity was available to farmers on a regular basis, so they could do their work properly.