Hildegarde The Arena
TODAY marks 14 days since the barbaric and heinous attack at White City Stadium in Bulawayo, when an explosive widely believed to be a grenade was thrown at President Mnangagwa, his deputies and some top Zanu-PF officials. The device lobbed by an individual or individuals that are yet to be apprehended by the police, was lobbed at President Mnangagwa and members of the VVIP as they were leaving the podium, claimed two lives and injured 47 others.
Among the injured were Vice President Kembo Mohadi, Zanu-PF chairperson Cde Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, Vice President Constantino Chiwenga’s wife Mrs Marry Chiwenga, the ruling party’s national political commissar Cde Engelbert Rugeje, Zanu-PF Women’s League secretary Mabel Chinomona, and some of their security details.
Apart from many unanswered questions, there are also number of lessons to be drawn from the criminal attack, whose motive was to decimate the top leadership in Zanu-PF.
Whoever did that was cognisant of the impact it would have had- not only within the ruling party, but also at national and regional level.
They were aware that it would have dramatically changed the face of politics in Zanu-PF.
They must, however, be very disappointed because they missed their target(s) as campaigning is going on normally for all political parties.
Those who hoped that a state of emergency would be declared have since realised that Government has treated the White City Stadium incident as a criminal act that should be condemned and also be handled by the country’s security agencies.
Declaring a state of emergency would have caused a major dent on the electoral process as it implied that State security was weak.
The credibility of the electoral process would have been greatly compromised.
But since June 23, Zanu-PF has continued to campaign, calling for peace and unity to prevail before, during and after the elections.
Be that as it may, what lessons did we learn from the events of June 23?
As I was watching the live transmission of the rally on television with family members, not only was it a frightening moment, but when ZTV, which was doing live broadcasts switched to soccer moments after the blast, we wondered whether they did that to manage the situation.
Our questions were: Who did this? Who were the casualties and the extent of the injuries? Was the President among them? It was a moment of madness when the worst case scenarios became reality, but also gave a chilling effect.
The writer salutes Zimpapers scribes on the ground who tried their best to give updates on a WhatsApp group under very tense and uncertain circumstances. They were our first heroes and heroines because they sacrificed life and limb to give us information.
Information, communication technologies also took the number one slot, for without them, we could not have received the WhatsApp updates from colleagues on the ground.
When The Sunday Mail editor Mabasa Sasa, posted an update assuring the nation that the President had been safely evacuated, and was now at State House, we initially took it with a pinch of salt, thinking that they were again trying to manage the situation as best as they could.
My family members refuted his claims for they did not know that there is a State House in Bulawayo.
As we flipped through various satellite channels like eNCA, SABC, Afro Worldview, BBC, CNN, Sky News, Al Jazeera, hoping to get a “Breaking News” story, we also grew impatient with ZTV for not giving us updates, for we needed to verify the images we were now receiving through social media platforms.
We needed an authentic voice to inform the nation what had happened at White City Stadium.
In this age of news-on-demand, the writer wondered how some media houses interrupt normal programming to do their “Breaking News”.
I forgot that in 2009, I had written a piece about professionalism, humaneness and sensitivity when dealing with tragedies that befall political personalities.
When Mrs Susan Tsvangirai died in a road traffic accident, we left the newsroom around midnight, wondering whether we should write that she had died, considering that ZTV had carried the news bulletin, without mentioning her condition.
But on June 23, I realised that as members of the Fourth Estate, apart from editorial policy, professionalism is the pillar, irrespective of how important it is to inform and educate people.
Thus mainstream media stuck to those principles because everyone at that rally has family and friends, and whatever the situation was, it could not be dished out to the world in an inhuman and unprofessional manner.
Indeed smartphones are important gadgets, but they should not just have been that important to take ghastly pictures of the injured people.
It is in this light that the writer argues that if these smartphones were used to capture images of the injured, some very seriously, don’t we then have some citizen journalists sitting on very important footage of the person lobbing that explosive?
There was video footage that went around showing an object flying from the other tent, adjacent to the VVIP tent, but is that all? Those who were present and taking videos for memories’ sake should revisit their video footage, because they might be sitting on what the investigating officers are looking for – the culprit(s).
This incident makes the use of drones fitted with cameras during such events quite plausible. What they would have captured would now be used together with forensic material collected from the crime scene.
The various security agents must also be applauded for not over-reacting.
One or two shots, even in the air, could have resulted in a number of fatalities, including a stampede.
This would have worsened an already tragic situation.
The other first responders – Zimbabwe Red Cross Society, ambulance services and individuals that assisted showed that unity and selfless love was more important than the wanton killing and injuring of innocent civilians.
The events at White City Stadium conjured ugly memories for a number of people who experienced the war of liberation, but it also showed that although a people can be intimidated and fear instilled in them, they will always wake up and move on, in the meantime taking care of the injured as is the case right now.
Although people also spoke with one voice, roundly condemning the dreadful act, it, however, became confusing as some called it a criminal act, while others said it was nothing but a terrorist act.
Is this a question of semantics? However, criminality and terrorism mean different things, and call for different responses?
There is very little that Government or anybody for that matter can do about social media. However, in order to ensure that fake news is not given credence, it was important to get regular updates from both the law enforcement agents and the health care officials.
The writer feels that there were too many gaps in updating the nation on what exactly happened, including the investigative process. This has given room to various conspiracy theories, with some apportioning blame on innocent people.
Questions were also asked on whether people were scanned as they got into the venue. Indeed, the number was too large, but every life in that stadium also mattered.
We hope that there will be investment in various security gadgets, including metal detectors and facial recognition equipment in future.
Mater Dei and Mpilo hospitals and other health care centres also did a fantastic job, but they showed the need for having state-of-the-art equipment.
The White City Stadium bombing also left many people traumatised. How do political parties mobilise supporters to attend rallies? Is the fear gone?
The lessons are too many for this instalment, but we hope that the Zanu-PF’s top leadership has realised that although they displayed a show of unity at the rally by travelling with their presidential candidate, the enemy would also be planning otherwise.
But, we thank God for preserving lives and for the peace and tranquillity the nation continues to enjoy, the peace that has allowed candidates throughout the country to move freely to sell their programmes to the electorate.