A spokesman for the ruling leftist party of Zimbabwe, Patrick Chinamasa, insulted U.S. Ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols in a screed Monday in which he referred to the diplomat as a “thug” and an “Uncle Tom.”
The ruling Zanu-PF party — the party of late dictator Robert Mugabe — has panicked in response to dissidents organizing a major protest against President Emmerson Mnangagwa for July 31, arresting protest organizers and claiming that American officials were secretly behind any domestic discontent. Zimbabweans have expressed outrage for the past several months at Mnangagwa’s government for overtly participating in corruption, erupting particularly against the nation’s former health minister after his arrest for being involved in a $60 million corruption scheme.
Public unrest allowed the military to depose Mugabe in 2017 and return Mnangagwa from exile. Mnangagwa had fled the country after an internal power struggle with Mugabe’s wife, “Gucci” Grace.
Like much of Africa, the Chinese coronavirus pandemic has caught Zimbabwe’s weak healthcare infrastructure off guard, resulting in reports of health workers lacking sufficient supplies to do their jobs and suspicions that the virus is much more widespread in the national population than the low number of coronavirus tests would indicate. At press time, Zimbabwe’s government has documented 2,704 cases of Chinese coronavirus and 36 deaths.
Chinamasa unleashed on Nichols during a press conference Monday, blaming him and America for growing unrest in the country.
“Concerning the machinations and antics of the U.S. Ambassador Brian Nichols and a coterie of gangsters and mercenaries who are disguised as diplomats, I want to warn them and remind them that it is high time they get to know that Zimbabwe is a sovereign republic and we are a full sovereign State,” Chinamasa said, according to New Zimbabwe. “If he continues to undermine the republic, mobilizing, and funding disturbances coordinating violence and training in insurgency, our leadership will not hesitate to give him marching orders.”
“Diplomats should not behave like thugs and Brian Nichols is a thug,” Chinamasa added, warning “Don’t dare Zimbabwe. We are waiting for you. Zimbabwe is not one of the states or provinces that make the United States of America.”
The African outlet 263Chat added that Chinamasa claimed that Nichols was an “Uncle Tom” for representing a country that allegedly abused black people: “What has the United States has to offer in terms of values and human rights observance when his own African American people are treated like rats in full view of world media and he remains an Uncle Tom used to propagate values which, by themselves, they do not practice on their own people.”
New Zimbabwe noted that America formally summoned the Zimbabwean ambassador to Washington, Innocent Mutembwa, to issue a complaint.
“Comments from Zanu PF — while sadly not surprising — are offensive. We have summoned [the] ambassador of Zimbabwe to explain,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Tibor Nagy lamented.
The outburst followed Zimbabwe’s “information minister” Monica Mutsvangwa disparaging American officials for expressing opposition to the arrest of dissident organization leader Jacob Ngarivhume and journalist Hopewell Chin’ono for organizing a protest on July 31. Mutsvangwa reportedly described America as “evil and doom-mongers” and asserted, “Chin’ono and Ngarivhume belong to that camp of evil wishers.”
“The role of foreign powers in this plot to instigate an illegal regime change in Zimbabwe is made apparent by a set of events and statements that followed the police operation,” Mutsvangwa claimed, accusing America of seeking “cruel self-enrichment from our resources.”
Mnangagwa’s cronies have presented no evidence linking Ngarivhume and Chin’ono to the U.S. government. Police arrested both on July 20 on charges of organizing a protest against corruption and have kept them imprisoned without bail for allegedly presenting an imminent risk of expressing disagreement with the government. Ngarivhume had revealed prior to his arrest that he was receiving death threats from Mnangagwa supporters.
Chin’ono, a nationally known journalist, has been for months advocating against the Mnangagwa regime with particular emphasis on its failure to organize a competent response to the coronavirus pandemic. He revealed that Zimbabwean health workers were using bedsheets at PPE, declaring the country a “failed state” on Twitter. Chin’ono was attempting to livestream the police arriving to his home when he was arrested.
In the few moments between being denied bail at a court hearing and being returned to prison, Chin’ono managed to address the public, reportedly stating, “the struggle against corruption should continue. People should not stop. They should carry own [sic] with it.”
Twitter suspended Chin’ono’s account shortly after his arrest, presumably in response to a request from the Mnangagwa government.
The U.S. government offered Zimbabwe $470,000 for help in expanding coronavirus testing capabilities and to “implement a public-health emergency plan for points of entry,” according to the U.S. State Department. A currently available federal government grant offers up to $24,000 for proposals to help Zimbabwe ”
promote freedom of expression and information.”