Zim­babwe army chief threat­ens to ‘step in’

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - FARAI MUT­SAKA

Zim­babwe was on edge Tues­day as ar­moured per­son­nel car­ri­ers were seen out­side the cap­i­tal a day af­ter the army com­man­der threat­ened to “step in” to calm po­lit­i­cal ten­sions over the pres­i­dent’s pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor, and the rul­ing party ac­cused the com­man­der of “trea­son­able con­duct.”

The As­so­ci­ated Press saw three ar­moured per­son­nel car­ri­ers with sev­eral sol­diers in a con­voy head­ing to­ward an army bar­racks just out­side the cap­i­tal, Harare. While mil­i­tary ve­hi­cle move­ment there is rou­tine, the tim­ing height­ened un­ease in this south­ern African coun­try that for the first time is see­ing an open rift be­tween the mil­i­tary and 93-year-old Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe. The mil­i­tary has been a key pil­lar of Mu­gabe’s power since in­de­pen­dence from white mi­nor­ity rule in 1980.

Mu­gabe, the world’s old­est head of state, last week fired Vice-Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa and ac­cused him of plot­ting to take power, in­clud­ing through witch­craft. Mnan­gagwa, who en­joyed the mil­i­tary’s back­ing and once was seen as a po­ten­tial pres­i­dent, fled the coun­try and said he had been threat­ened. More than 100 se­nior of­fi­cials al­legedly supporting him have been listed for dis­ci­plinary mea­sures by a fac­tion as­so­ci­ated with Mu­gabe’s wife, Grace.

The first lady now ap­pears po­si­tioned to re­place Mnan­gagwa as one of the coun­try’s two vice-pres­i­dents at a special con­fer­ence of the rul­ing party in De­cem­ber, lead­ing many in Zim­babwe to sus­pect that she could suc­ceed her husband. Grace Mu­gabe is un­pop­u­lar with some Zim­bab­weans be­cause of lav­ish spend­ing as many strug­gle, and four peo­ple ac­cused of boo­ing her at a re­cent rally were ar­rested.

On Mon­day, army com­man­der Con­stantino Chi­wenga is­sued an un­prece­dented state­ment say­ing purges against se­nior rul­ing ZANU-PF party of­fi­cials, many of whom like Mnan­gagwa fought for lib­er­a­tion, should end “forth­with.”

“We must re­mind those be­hind the cur­rent treach­er­ous shenani­gans that when it comes to mat­ters of pro­tect­ing our revo­lu­tion, the mil­i­tary will not hes­i­tate to step in,” the army com­man­der said. The state-run broad­caster did not re­port on his state­ment.

The rul­ing party’s youth league, aligned with the 52-year-old first lady, on Tues­day crit­i­cized the army com­man­der’s com­ments, say­ing youth were “ready to die for Mu­gabe.” On Tues­day night the rul­ing party is­sued a state­ment ac­cus­ing the army com­man­der of “trea­son­able con­duct,” say­ing his com­ments were “clearly cal­cu­lated to dis­turb na­tional peace and sta­bil­ity” and were “meant to in­cite in­sur­rec­tion.” It was not clear whether the com­man­der still had his post.

State broad­caster Zim­babwe Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion read out part of the rul­ing party state­ment late in the nightly news, which was led by a re­port on re­gional tourism.

Else­where, the cap­i­tal re­mained calm. The army spokesper­son was not im­me­di­ately avail­able for com­ment.

“Yes, given the past two weeks’ po­lit­i­cal events, it is tempt­ing to spec­u­late that there is a con­nec­tion be­tween the de­ploy­ment of mil­i­tary per­son­nel and the com­ments of the army chief of staff on an ‘in­ter­ven­tion’ — but there are very real dangers of vi­o­lence break­ing out as a re­sult of ram­pant and un­founded spec­u­la­tion,” African De­fence Re­view an­a­lyst Con­way Wadding­ton wrote Tues­day evening, say­ing there ap­peared to be no other signs of an “or­ga­nized coup” and that it could have been an act of in­tim­i­da­tion in­stead.

Mu­gabe in the past has warned mil­i­tary com­man­ders from in­ter­fer­ing in suc­ces­sion pol­i­tics.

TSVANGIRAYI MUKWAZHI, THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The As­so­ci­ated Press saw ar­moured per­son­nel car­ri­ers head­ing to­ward an army bar­racks just out­side the cap­i­tal of Harare on Tues­day.

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