Mugabe told: back off or you face coup
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has been warned by his generals that if he does not stop his purge of senior figures in the ruling party he risks a coup.
In an unprecedented rebuke that will deepen the country’s growing political crisis, Constantine Chiwenga, head of the armed forces, yesterday condemned the “gossiping, backbiting and public chastisement” that he said had split the ruling Zanu-PF party and could degenerate into serious conflict, which the military could not tolerate.
The general lambasted the sacking of senior party figures — which last week included vicepresident Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has close ties to the military — and ordered Mugabe and his wife Grace to stop their criticism of the armed forces.
“The current purging which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background must stop forthwith,” he told a press conference attended by 90 army officers. “We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.”
The statement dovetails with those made last week by Mr Mnangagwa and Chris Mutsvangwa, head of the country’s war veterans association.
Both warned that Zanu-PF had been taken over by a cabal led by Mrs Mugabe, which they said was “plundering the country” and destroying the party.
Until last week Mr Mnangagwa had been a favourite to take over from Mugabe, 93, when he dies or steps down. He incurred the ire of Mrs Mugabe, however, who is also thought to want to succeed her husband. After his sacking, he fled the country saying he feared for his life, and was yesterday said to be in China. He has vowed to return and lead a rebellion to oust the Mugabes.
“(Zanu-PF) is now a party controlled by undisciplined, egotistical and self-serving minnows who derive their power not from the people and party but from only two individuals in the form of the first family,” he said.
It is a sign Mugabe’s iron grip may be weakening after 37 years. He has used the army to keep control amid opposition challenges, economic ruin and sanctions, and has repeatedly warned them not to interfere in politics.
In July, Mugabe said the army had no place in politics after some generals criticised officials seen to be part of his wife’s faction, Generation 40. Mr Mnangagwa’s supporters call themselves Lacoste, a play on his nickname The Crocodile.
Mrs Mugabe, 52, recently accused General Chiwenga, 61, of backing Mr Mnangagwa and Mr Mutsvangwa.
General Chiwenga said he was speaking “with a heavy heart” but had to respond to his countrymen’s fears. “There is distress, trepidation and despondence within the nation,” the general said. “Our peace-loving people, who have stood by their government and endured some of the most trying social and economic conditions ever experienced are extremely disturbed by what is happening within the ranks of the national revolutionary party.”
He said “counter-revolutionaries” had “infiltrated the party” and echoed the accusation of Mr Mnangagwa, a former defence minister, that they were “agents of our erstwhile enemies” who sought to return the country “to foreign domination”.
Piers Pigou, of the Crisis Group think tank, said General Chiwenga was issuing “a preemptive shot across the bows” but the military historically used a coup threat to restore order rather than direct action. “It’s a very direct message, it ups the ante somewhat, it flirts with unconstitutional behaviour,” he said. “The question is how Mugabe will now respond.”