Zimbabwe streets quiet amid coup reports
Allies of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe vowed Tuesday that his government and the governing party would not be intimidated by the country’s military leaders after they threatened to intervene in a heated political feud.
But early on Wednesday morning, there were reports that a coup might be under way and the U.S. embassy on its website said that “as a result of the ongoing political uncertainty through the night, the ambassador has instructed all employees to remain home tomorrow.”
Americans, the embassy said, “are encouraged to shelter in place until further notice.”
The streets of Harare, the capital, were largely empty as rain fell. Although the state broadcaster was said to have been seized by troops, normal programming continued and the only military presence outside was the usual detachment of guards.
Asked about reports of a possible coup, the country’s Information Minister, Simon Khaya-Moyo, said: “What can I say? I don’t know about that.” He did not elaborate.
The question of who will succeed Mr. Mugabe, 93, the country’s leader since 1980, has long haunted Zimbabwe and its political class.
The long-simmering feud boiled over last week when Mr. Mugabe summarily expelled vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa from the government and the governing ZANU-PF party, a move that was widely seen as clearing the path for Mr. Mugabe’s wife, Grace, as a possible successor.
Since his removal, the whereabouts of Mr. Mnangagwa – who, like Robert Mugabe, was a veteran of the country’s struggle for independence – has been shrouded in mystery.
In a remarkable act of defiance, the commander of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, General Constantine Chiwenga, warned Monday that “when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.”
Neither the military nor Mr. Mugabe issued any public statements on Tuesday even as rumors of a possible coup surfaced on social media and in the streets of Harare. But Mr. Moyo asserted in a statement that “the ruling ZANU-PF reaffirms the primacy of politics over the gun.”
Mr. Moyo, who is also the party’s national secretary for information and publicity, said the statement by Gen. Chiwenga “suggests treasonable conduct on his part as this was meant to incite insurrection and violent challenge to constitutional order.”
“Purporting to speak on behalf of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces,” he said, “was not only surprising but was an outrageous vitiation of professional soldiership and his wartime record as high-ranking freedom fighter, entrusted with command responsibilities in a free and democratic Zimbabwe.”
Mr. Moyo’s statement, broadcast during the evening news hour on state television, came hours after a leader of the party’s Youth League made similar remarks at ZANU-PF headquarters in Harare.
Kudzanayi Chipanga, the youth league’s secretary, suggested that military officers unhappy with the government should first return to civilian life if they wanted to become politicians.
“General Chiwenga and all those in the security sector who wish to engage in politics are free to throw their hats in the ring and not hide behind the barrel of the gun,” said Mr. Chipanga, who became a favourite of Zimbabwe’s first family after he helped organize a march last year in support of Mr. Mugabe’s leadership.
Zimbabwean soldiers stand beside armoured military vehicles outside the capital of Harare on Tuesday.