Mnangagwa Calls for Unity, Attacks Opposition Leader Nelson Chamisa.

VOA — Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa called for unity as the country marked 41 years of independence on Sunday. But the president also accused the opposition leader of being destructive, and the opposition fired right back, saying the president and his party are violent against the people.

In a wide-ranging interview aired on national television to mark the country’s independence, President Emmerson Mnangagwa called on Zimbabweans to unite so that the country can prosper.

Asked about Nelson Chamisa, the leader of the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, the 78-year-old leader said, “Well, you have mentioned this one Zimbabwean, you forget that him and his vice president [Tendai Biti] went to America to ask for sanctions to continue to be imposed on Zimbabwe. So, before they cut that cord with the Americans it is difficult to be proper Zimbabweans! I still believe that Mr. Chamisa is a young Zimbabwean, he still has that opportunity to positively contribute to his country if he puts aside the vision for violent demonstrations against his country, being destructive.”

Independence celebrations were muted this year with most of the usual festivities canceled due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

Clifford Hlatshwayo, the spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change Alliance, dismissed the remarks by Mnangagwa saying his party was more peaceful than the ruling ZANU-PF.

“MDC Alliance has been the victims of violence. The people of Zimbabwe are victims of violence perpetrated by ZANU-PF! Orchestrated, organized and sponsored by ZANU-PF government! It is an open secret that Mnangagwa and ZANU-PF are the archbishops of violence, they’re archbishops of causing harm within the Zimbabwean communities,” Hlatshwayo said.

For the past two decades, Zimbabwe’s government has often used force to shut down opposition rallies and protests and intimidate MDC supporters ahead of elections. The violence triggered Western sanctions against Zimbabwean officials and their allies that have yet to be lifted.

There were varying reactions to Mnangagwa’s accusation of the opposition as a violent party. Twenty-seven-year-old Stallos Sithole dismissed the call for unity.

“So, for Emmerson in my view to say that we want unity he has been the center of violence. For the past 41 years Zimbabwe has never seen peaceful elections, has never had an uninterrupted decade without violence, so we have always been engaged in these vicious cycles of violence. For Emmerson to operate as a peace builder and someone who can unify aggressive forces is utter dross and hogwash for me as a young person,” Sithole said.

Lameck Shiri is a vegetable vendor in Harare.

Shiri said, “So, the president’s interview, the independence interview to me it shows that Zimbabweans are a diverse people because there are some issues, he discussed which are generally full of loopholes but at the same time, there are other issues which he addressed which show that there have been some strides that have been made by the ZANU-PF government under Mnangagwa though on the little political freedom and expression of free speech has been curtailed.”

Mnangagwa, who took over from the late Robert Mugabe in 2017, says Zimbabweans are now enjoying more rights and freedoms than under his predecessor. In his Independence Day address, Mnangagwa promised a brighter and more prosperous Zimbabwe.