Zim­babwe streets quiet amid coup re­ports

The Globe and Mail (Ottawa/Quebec Edition) - - NEWS - JEF­FREY MOYO

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.

PHILIMON BU­L­AWAYO/REUTERS

Zim­bab­wean sol­diers stand be­side ar­moured mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles out­side the cap­i­tal of Harare on Tues­day.

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