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FromtheEditor'sDesk: Conspiracy theories can tear a country asunder

The real story was that one of Zimbabwe’s most important people had died painfully in a fire that was most likely an act of arson; but that was thrown to the background. Instead, the story became that of President Robert Mugabe’s succession and how it has turned nasty with Mujuru’s death.

The conspiracy theories that sprouted all over the place and the undertones of vengeance coming from certain quarters of our society show just how deeply scarred our nation is and how desperately it needs healing. Vice-President Joice Mujuru, who was widowed by the event and must definitely be the person most deeply affected personally by the tragedy, saw the divisive potential of the rumour-mongering that followed her husband’s death and sought to quell it but it had already spread like a virus, especially on the Internet.

This is not the first death that has threatened to rend asunder Zimbabwe as a nation deeply divided by an internecine political crisis. The death of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s wife Susan in March 2009 in a suspicious car accident in which her husband survived also had the rumour mill running at full throttle. It took Tsvangirai’s plea to the effect that there was no foul play to quell the emotions that were threatening to blow over and lead to civil strife.

The lesson to learn is that high-profile deaths have to be handled properly otherwise that may spark the civil strife that always lies simmering under the surface in a country going through transition.

A third death is worth mentioning: that of a police officer in Glen View early this year. We mention it only because the culprits of that murder may now never be known due to the way the police handled it. In a hysterical move the police swooped down on dozens of MDC-T supporters after concluding before investigation that they had murdered the officer in cold blood. People who were not even present on the scene were picked up and incarcerated for long periods because the police chose to be emotional rather than professional in their conduct.

We may never know what exactly caused the Susan Tsvangirai accident, just like we may never know the circumstances leading to Mujuru’s death because investigations have probably been directed away from the real culprits, just like in the case of the murdered police officer.

The factionalism in Zanu PF, of which Mujuru was alleged to lead a faction, became the reason for the late general’s death. The easy conclusion to make was that Mujuru was killed by the other faction allegedly led by Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa. Emotions swirled around this conspiracy theory but people never stopped to think that besides being a politician, Mujuru was also a businessman; a big one at that, some say he had become the richest man in Zimbabwe ahead of even cellular-phone tycoon Strive Masiiwa and locally-based British businessman Nick van Hoogstraten. Here was a man who obviously had made enemies in both politics and business; it is almost impossible for a man or a woman involved in business to the scale that Mujuru was not to have enemies.

He was in the diamond business big time and we all know that diamonds hardly ever go without blood. Indeed, a local weekly has reported that Mujuru was going to Beitbridge the following morning purportedly to solve a diamond deal that had gone sour. In the face of this, it is premature for people to quickly conclude that this was a political rather than a business murder, or simply a murder whose motive might remain unknown. This is why it is important that the police are given time to investigate such murders without being influenced by conspiracy theories.

Did conspiracy theorists ever stop to think that factionalists could not be as naive and simplistic as to think that by murdering Mujuru the way to State House would be made easier? But conspiracy theories have thriven in Zanu PF because the party has a string of unexplained deaths dating back to the very days it was founded. This has created a fertile ground for such spurious theories to take root.

Conspiracy theories need the death of a high-profile individual to spark civil war and genocide, as happened in Rwanda. Already on the Internet, particularly on Facebook, we are beginning to see posts such as, “Are members of the Mujuru faction going to take it lying down?”

This is pure incitement. It is based on the conclusion, which might turn out to be wrong, that Mujuru was assassinated by members of a rival faction. The post incites members of the so-called Mujuru faction (academics such as Ibbo Mandaza argue that this factionalism is a fiction created by the media) to stand up and revenge. Revenge in this case can only mean murdering whoever purportedly leads the other faction.

But where will the vengeance end? It will end in civil strife that may lead to genocide, again as happened in Rwanda.

What has emerged out of the tragic death of Mujuru is that Zanu PF is deeply divided and the most explosive issue which has deepened the division is the matter of Mugabe’s succession. It has been argued, correctly, that this issue is of national rather than party importance; it affects everyone. It is a national security issue.

Mugabe should see this more clearly now due to the potential the death of Mujuru has to tear asunder not only his party but the nation as a whole. It is therefore incumbent upon him to quickly act by putting a process in motion that will see him easing out of his party’s leadership in the shortest possible time. If this means Zanu PF holding an extraordinary elective congress sooner rather than later, so be it!

In the meantime, he has to act very fast to quell the emotions that have been roused by conspiracy theorists before they explode. The police must play their part by quickly going to the bottom of all this without fear or favour. Unfortunately, because of the politicisation of our uniformed forces, this might be impossible since high-ranking officers are also influenced by the factionalism in Zanu PF, much to the detriment of professionalism.

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