BY MIRIAM MANGWAYA/NQOBANI NDLOVU/SHARON SIBINDI
A FRESH diplomatic row is brewing between President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government and the United States embassy in Harare over allegations that Joe Biden’s administration was clandestinely planning to train opposition MDC Alliance polling agents to safeguard their vote in the 2023 elections.
On Saturday, Presidential spokesperson George Charamba sensationally claimed on his Twitter handle @Jamwanda2 that government had received intelligence that two unnamed high-ranking MDC Alliance officials approached the US embassy seeking assistance in the training and equipping of 50 election agents ahead of the 2023
Charamba described the move as an unwarranted interference in the country’s political affairs, warning the US government that it was “skating on thin ice”.
“CHAMISA-ASSISTED GROSS UNITED STATES INTERFERENCE IN THE POLITICS OF ZIMBABWE: On 21st September 2021, two MDC-CHAMISA officials, one very high-ranking, another standing for youth wing, approached the PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECTION of the US EMBASSY in HARARE with a request for the same to assist with the training and equipping of 50 election agents ahead of 2023 harmonised elections,” Charamba tweeted.
CHAMISA-ASSISTED GROSS UNITED STATES INTERFERENCE IN THE POLITICS OF ZIMBABWE: On 21st September 2021, two MDC-CHAMISA officials, one very high-ranking, another standing for youth wing, approached the PUBLIC AFFAIRS SECTION of the US EMBASSY in HARARE with a request for the same
— Jamwanda (@Jamwanda2) September 25, 2021
“An official of @usembassyharare advised them to put together a formal request. In the meantime, @usembassyharare has begun agitating for by-elections in Zimbabwe in which it is a clear contestant through its funded proxy. Unless the two MDC-CHAMISA officials (come) out and explain themselves speedily, I will go a step further to help them out. Meanwhile, @usembassyharare needs to be reminded it is skating on very thin ice in the middle of the Savannah!!!”
But MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa’s spokesperson Nkululeko Sibanda said there was no reason why Charamba should fret over issues of training of election agents as it was aimed at promoting free and fair elections.
“Charamba is speaking from a museum. Why does he think that training of election agents is political interference? It is archaic. There is no interference in the training of election agents,” he said.
“He actually should be supporting it because it promotes free and fair elections. We cannot enjoy cheated elections. We need reforms that allow us to avoid disputed polls.”
In 2018, different political analysts attributed Chamisa’s loss to Mnangagwa to inadequate deployment of agents to monitor the elections at remote polling stations.
This is not the first time that government and Zanu PF officials have attacked Western embassies, particularly the US and British, for pushing a regime change agenda.
Last year, Zanu PF acting political commissar Patrick Chinamasa threatened to declare the former US ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols a persona non grata after accusing him of funding civic society organisations to revolt against government.
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said: “By virtue of them being civil servants, government officials are obligated to abide by the formal diplomatic procedures on relating with foreign embassies. We have seen government officials doubling as ruling party spokespersons, hence the need for streamlining the communication strategies from within the government.
“Careless attacks on foreign embassies risks complicating the relations of the government and other States. (Information ministry secretary) Ndavaningi Mangwana earlier this (last) week advised the US embassy to approach the Foreign Affairs ministry, which was noble and should be two-way. Government spokespersons know where the US embassy is and should seek to address their concerns in a diplomatic way.”
He said it was against the law for local political parties to receive funds from other States, but the rule of law should be applied to all individuals violating the statutes.
“The law prohibits funding of political parties from outside, including Zanu PF, which has, however, received funds from several governments, China included,” Masunungure said.
But Zanu PF party acting spokesperson Mike Bimha dismissed the claims that the ruling party had received foreign funding.
“Zanu PF is broke, that is why we are mobilising funds from our supporters. We recently launched a programme to mobilise US$140 million from our supporters, which translates to US$14 million from each province. We run a number of programmes which require funding, hence the internal mobilisation. Funding political parties is not China’s way of doing business. It invests in a government. That Zanu PF has been funded by China are unfounded claims,” he said.
Meanwhile, US charge d’affaires and acting ambassador to Zimbabwe, Thomas Hastings, last Friday urged citizens to register to vote in the forthcoming 2023 elections.
Hastings said this in Bulawayo during a tour of Princess Margaret Health Clinic funded by the Organisation for Public Health Interventions and Development.
He applauded the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) for resuming voter registration following relaxation of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.
“We applaud Zec for its efforts at the voter registration process, also for beginning the census and delimitation processes. I believe in one of the tweets we had, a quote from our Vice-President Kamala Harris which said the right to vote is the right which unlocks all the rights. The upcoming delimitation exercise — creation of new electoral boundaries — will be conducted using census data,” Hastings said.
“This is something that we feel very strongly about … we feel democracy is very important. We feel that voter registration is, of course, a key piece to having good elections. That is why we are pleased to see voter registration underway here, and yes, we encourage Zimbabweans to take part in voter registration.”
He said COVID-19 was not an excuse, arguing that other countries such as Zambia recently held elections during the pandemic.
“The Constitution of Zimbabwe says there should be by elections when there are vacancies. I know under COVID-19, there have to be considerations for safety, but many countries in the world, including our own, have managed to hold elections safely even during COVID-19,” he said.
Hastings said Zimbabwe had done well in its COVID-19 vaccination exercise, hence the country should be confident enough to conduct by-elections.
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