HARARE – London-based professor Stephen Chan, says he is astounded at the ironic contrast that he experienced in two southern African countries wherein he was awarded state honours in neighbouring Zambia, only to be “greeted with lies next door in Zimbabwe.”
Chan was denied entry into Zimbabwe on Sunday, amid allegations that he was planning to train opposition militants ahead of the August 23 general elections. Chan, who has written extensively on African politics and international relations, was deported shortly after landing at Robert Mugabe International Airport.
The state-owned Herald newspaper claimed that Chan was an advisor to opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, and that he had applied for a visa under the pretext of teaching karate in Zimbabwe. The paper cited “confidential security sources” who accused Chan of intending to lead violent protests if Chamisa loses the election.
Chan rejected these accusations as “fabrications” and said he had no relationship with Chamisa or any political party in Zimbabwe. He also said he had never been involved in any insurgent training. He said he was only visiting Zimbabwe to share his knowledge of karate and kobudo, a martial art that uses traditional weapons.
“I was given no reasons at the airport for being turned away. They were in fact at the aircraft gate as I emerged from my flight. Insofar as the Herald article, which I saw only as I was boarding the flight in Lusaka, seems deliberately to have been published as ‘cover’, I must insist I was in no way formenting or helping to organise an insurrection,” Chan told ZimMorningPost.
“I was part of the international effort in 1979 and 1980 to establish a democratic Zimbabwe. I believe change should only come by democratic means and not by insurrections. There is an irony that I am awarded state honours in neighbouring Zambia, and greeted with lies next door in Zimbabwe. Can the ruling party win the elections in any other way than by slander?
Chan said he believed the real reason for his deportation was that the Zimbabwean authorities did not want him to witness an election that was “not fully proper”.
Zimbabwe’s information secretary Nick Mangwana indirectly criticized Chan on social media platform X, saying: “We are in the midst of elections, why don’t you stop coming to do karate in Zimbabwe?”
The country is set to hold its presidential and parliamentary elections on August 23, the second since former President Robert Mugabe was ousted in a military coup in 2017. The incumbent President Emmerson Mnangagwa, from the ruling Zanu-PF party, is facing a challenge from Chamisa, who leads the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).
The election comes as Zimbabwe faces a severe economic crisis, marked by hyperinflation, currency devaluation, and unemployment. Both candidates have promised to revive the economy and restore democracy, but there are concerns about the fairness and credibility of the electoral process.