Mu­gabe told: back off or you face coup

The Australian - - WORLD - AISLINN LAING JO­HAN­NES­BURG

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.”

Chi­wenga

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