Mil­i­tary out­side Harare af­ter army chief’s threat

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

HARARE: Zim­babwe’s rul­ing party ac­cused the head of the armed forces of trea­son Tues­day as ar­mored ve­hi­cles rolled to­ward the cap­i­tal in ap­par­ent mil­i­tary pres­sure on Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe over a suc­ces­sion dis­pute.

There were few peo­ple on Harare’s streets as night fell and the mil­i­tary move­ments did not ap­pear to rep­re­sent an im­me­di­ate of­fen­sive ac­tion. An­a­lysts said it was pre­ma­ture to talk of a coup at­tempt but there ap­peared to be a rup­ture be­tween Mu­gabe and the mil­i­tary.

The coun­try has been on edge since Mon­day when Con­stantino Chi­wenga, com­man­der of the Zim­babwe De­fense Forces, said he was pre­pared to “step in” to end a purge of sup­port­ers of a sacked vice pres­i­dent. The un­prece­dented state­ment rep­re­sents an es­ca­la­tion of a rum­bling po­lit­i­cal strug­gle over who will suc­ceed Mu­gabe, 93. The mil­i­tary has been a key pil­lar of Mu­gabe’s power since in­de­pen­dence from white mi­nor­ity rule in 1980.

Mu­gabe chaired a weekly Cab­i­net meet­ing in the cap­i­tal Tues­day.

Af­ter­ward, the rul­ing party, ZANU-PF, said it stood by the “pri­macy of pol­i­tics over the gun.”

It said Chi­wenga’s state­ment sug­gests “trea­son­able con­duct ... meant to in­cite in­sur­rec­tion.”

Mu­gabe fired Vice Pres­i­dent Emer­son Mnan­gagwa last week.

The vet­eran of the coun­try’s 1970s lib­er­a­tion war was pop­u­lar with the mil­i­tary and had been seen as a likely suc­ces­sor to Mu­gabe. The army views his re­moval as part of a purge of in­de­pen­dence-era fig­ures to pave the way for Mu­gabe to hand power to his wife Grace Mu­gabe.

A Reuters wit­ness saw two ar­mored ve­hi­cles parked be­side the main road from Harare to Chin­hoyi, about 20 kilo­me­ters from the city.

One, which was pointed in the di­rec­tion of the cap­i­tal, had come off its tracks. Wit­nesses said they saw four ar­mored ve­hi­cles turn be­fore reach­ing Harare and head to­ward the Pres­i­den­tial Guard com­pound in a sub­urb on the out­skirts of Harare.

The troop move­ments raise ten­sion on a con­ti­nent where for decades armies reg­u­larly over­threw civil­ian govern­ments.

Nei­ther the pres­i­dent nor his wife re­sponded in pub­lic to the gen­eral’s remarks and state me­dia did not pub­lish Chi­wenga’s state­ment.

The Her­ald news­pa­per posted some of the com­ments on its Twit­ter page but deleted them.

The head of ZANU-PF’s youth wing ac­cused the army chief of sub­vert­ing the con­sti­tu­tion. Grace Mu­gabe has de­vel­oped a strong fol­low­ing in the pow­er­ful youth wing.

“De­fend­ing the revo­lu­tion and our leader and pres­i­dent is an ideal we live for and if need be it is a prin­ci­ple we are pre­pared to die for,” Kudzai Chipanga, who leads the ZANU-PF Youth League, said at the party’s head­quar­ters in Harare.

Grace Mu­gabe’s rise has brought her into con­flict with the in­de­pen­dence-era war veter­ans, who once en­joyed a priv­i­leged role in the rul­ing party un­der Mu­gabe, but who have in re­cent years been ban­ished from se­nior gov­ern­ment and party roles.

Decades ago, Zim­babwe had one of Africa’s promis­ing economies due in part to its agri­cul­tural ex­ports.

The coun­try is cur­rently strug­gling to pay for im­ports due to a dol­lar crunch, which is also spark­ing ram­pant in­fla­tion only 10 years af­ter it suf­fered a fi­nan­cial im­plo­sion caused when the cen­tral bank be­gan to print money.

Martin Rupiya, an ex­pert on Zim­babwe mil­i­tary af­fairs at the Univer­sity of South Africa in Pre­to­ria, said the army ap­peared to be putting the squeeze on Mu­gabe.

“There’s a rup­ture be­tween the ex­ec­u­tive and the armed forces,” Rupiya said.

Alex Ma­gaisa, a Bri­tish-based Zim­bab­wean aca­demic said it was pre­ma­ture to talk about a coup.

“A mil­i­tary coup is the nu­clear op­tion. A coup would be a very hard sell at home and in the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. They will want to avoid that,” Ma­gaisa said. –

The troop move­ments raise ten­sions on a con­ti­nent where for decades armies reg­u­larly over­threw civil­ian govern­ments.

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