Supporters of defeated Zimbabwean presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa accused U.K. Ambassador Catriona Laing of currying favor with President Emmerson Mnangagwa by wearing his signature scarf at a Downing Street event.
The opposition has accused Mnangagwa of rigging the election to become the first full-term president since the fall of dictator Robert Mugabe.
The scarf photo was taken in March, but it became a big deal over the weekend because Chamisa supporters cited it as evidence the British government supported and endorsed Mnangagwa throughout the presidential election. Mnangagwa himself saluted Laing’s choice of neckwear, exclaiming that Zimbabwe’s future was “as bright and positive as your wonderful scarf.”
The Zimbabwean opposition took a much dimmer view of the fashion accessory in question, calling it a “dictator’s voodoo scarf” and accusing the British government of endorsing a “mass murderer” to succeed Mugabe.
Mugabe was indeed a highly accomplished murderer but a dismal failure as the chief executive of his country. Mnangagwa was his chief enforcer during the horrifying Gukurahundi campaign in the 1980s, during which a legion of Mugabe’s soldiers trained by North Korea slaughtered thousands of civilians. “Villagers were forced at gunpoint to dance on the freshly-dug graves of their relatives and chant pro-Mugabe slogans,” the BBC recalled.
“Putting lipstick on a crocodile shouldn’t work, but it didn’t stop the ambassador trying,” a Chamis ally sneered to the UK Daily Mail on Sunday in a riff on Mnangagwa’s nickname “The Crocodile.”
“Everyone who has cozied up to this monster should be ashamed after his narrow win. He could have lost if more powerful people had stood up to him,” the Daily Mail’s correspondent said.
The Daily Mail noted that Laing is scheduled to leave her post in Zimbabwe and become ambassador to Nigeria soon, but the British Foreign Office denied the switch is due to any hard feelings over her longtime friendly relationship with Mnangagwa.
Laing defended herself on Sunday against accusations she treated Chamisa disrespectfully and sent clear signals her government favored Mnangagwa and his ZANU-PF party:
This story is untrue. At the dinner I held for Kate Hoey on 1 June, Zimbabwean guests were: an independent candidate, a pastor, and two business people. To my knowledge only one supports Zanu-PF and only since Nov. I also invited a human rights activist, but she couldn't make it. https://t.co/kNqxB70aga
— Catriona Laing (@CatrionaLaing1) August 5, 2018
I certainly did not ridicule @nelsonchamisa, who I recognise as a major political figure in Zimbabwe. I believe he and I have a good relationship and we meet regularly. We had a good meeting just before the election, discussing his plans if he won, and we spoke soon after.
— Catriona Laing (@CatrionaLaing1) August 5, 2018
She also pointed to Minister for Africa Harriett Baldwin’s statement on the recent Zimbabwean elections, which applauded the high turnout but expressed concerns about “the pre-election enviornment, the role of state media, and the use of state resources.”
“The UK remains deeply concerned by the violence following the elections and the disproportionate response from the security forces. We have urged all parties to work together to ensure calm. It is vital that any appeals against the results or the process are handled swiftly and impartially. All candidates have a responsibility to ensure their supporters act with restraint and avoid violence, while any challenges to the results are resolved,” Baldwin said.
Baldwin’s statement conspicuously failed to endorse Chamisa’s charges of outright ballot-box rigging, although as stated above, the British government wants appeals against the election results to be addressed promptly. Much of the response from international observers could be boiled down to: That was a pretty good election by Zimbabwean standards. Good riddance to Mugabe, fingers crossed that Mnangagwa is serious about economic reforms, and let’s try to avoid any more violence in the streets.
Chamisa most certainly intends to proceed with his challenge to the election. As of Sunday morning, he was still referring to himself as the true winner and promising great things from his administration-in-waiting:
I’m UNSHAKEN & UNMOVED. By God’s grace we WON. God’s promises are sure & true. Get ready to behold the NEW. Change is coming! I’m fortified by Job 19:25..For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth.#Godisinit.
— Nelson Chamisa (@nelsonchamisa) August 5, 2018
Chamisa adviser Alex Magaisa told PBS on Friday his candidate “understood the system was rigged” but decided to run and then contest the unfair outcome in court.
“Mr. Chamisa would have withdrawn from that election, but he decided that it’s important to give the people of Zimbabwe an opportunity to choose their next leader. And he has done incredibly well. There is no opposition leader who has ever garnered two million votes in an election. And he has done that. And we believe that he did enough to win the presidency. And that’s what the people believe,” Magaisa insisted.
Chamisa claimed on Monday that Mnangagwa is shadowing him with trained killers ready to eliminate him if his challenge to the election becomes a serious threat to Mnangagwa’s rule. His MDC party said squads of soldiers have been sent into low-income districts of the capital city of Harare to beat and abduct Chamisa supporters.
“People are calling on me, wanting me to give the signal to go to the streets, but I am worried there will be massive bloodshed. This is a more dangerous situation than Iraq,” Chamisa said.