Zimbabwe's election campaign season took a worrying turn Saturday afternoon when a crude bombing at a speech delivered by President Emmerson Mnangagwa appeared to be an attempt on his life.
Mnangagwa had just finished giving a speech in a stadium in Zimbabwe's second-largest city, Bulawayo, when the blast went off near him and other government officials as they shuffled offstage. Widely circulated videos on social media show a cloud of smoke and a small explosion knocking over people standing in the vicinity.
The president's spokesman, George Charamba, released a statement saying Mnangagwa was unhurt and an investigation was underway.
"There have been multiple attempts on the President's life over the past five years," he said.
It was unclear whether anyone was killed in the blast, but footage from ZBC, the state broadcaster, showed medics attending to wounded people. The state-run newspaper, the Herald, quickly termed the attack an "assassination attempt."
Mnangagwa, 75, assumed the presidency in November after Zimbabwe's longtime leader, Robert Mugabe, was deposed by the military in a bloodless coup. Mugabe had been Zimbabwe's only president since it gained independence in 1980, and elections that are expected to be held July 30 will be the first in which he is not a contender. Bulawayo, where the blast took place, is an opposition stronghold.
The events in November that brought Mnangagwa into power were driven by deep divisions in the ruling ZANU-PF party, with different factions vying to take over after the nonagenarian Mugabe eventually relinquished power or died. Mnangagwa had speculated publicly in speeches this year that members of his own party were out to impeach him or worse.
"Something like this was bound to happen," said Dewa Mavhinga, Human Rights Watch's Southern Africa director. "But the greater concern is that this could dramatically alter the campaign landscape and trigger political violence. So far, we had avoided the violence that has marred previous elections."
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