Mugabe ‘safe’ as fears of coup grow
ZIMBABWE: Explosions were heard in the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, yesterday after soldiers and several armoured vehicles were seen in the city amid a deepening split between the military and the government of 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe.
Johannesburg-based News24 reported armed forces commander Constantine Chiwenga saying that the military had not taken over, and that Mugabe and his family were safe. He added that armed forces were targeting the ‘‘criminals around them’’, and said the situation would return to normal soon.
The reports of explosions came after Zimbabwe’s ruling party called Chiwenga’s criticism of Mugabe’s administration ‘‘treasonable’’ and intended to incite insurrection. Reuters reported that soldiers had taken over the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC).
Chiwenga made his comments on Tuesday, a week after Mugabe fired his ally, Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, as vice-president and expelled him from the ruling party. He said the military would not permit ‘‘hijacking of the revolution’’.
That declaration was ‘‘clearly calculated to disturb national peace and stability’’, said Information Minister Simon Khaya Moyo, who is also the secretary for information for the ruling Zimbabwe African National UnionPatriotic Front (Zanu-PF).
Mnangagwa’s ouster marked a dramatic shift in politics in Zimbabwe, where he had been a pillar of a military and security apparatus that helped Mugabe emerge as the nation’s leader after independence from Britain in 1980.
Mugabe has broken with most of his allies who fought in the liberation war against the whiteminority regime of Rhodesia, leaving the so-called Generation-40 faction of younger members of the ruling party, championed by his wife, Grace Mugabe, 52, in the ascendancy.
Only a few months ago, Mnangagwa, a former security chief nicknamed ‘‘The Crocodile’’, was favourite to succeed his lifelong political patron, but he was ousted to pave the way for Grace Mugabe as successor.
Mnangagwa’s firing came amid growing tensions before elections next year, when the government may face a seven-party opposition coalition that is capitalising on public anger over cash shortages, crumbling infrastructure and a collapse in government services.
A Reuters reporter saw armoured personnel carriers on main roads around Harare. Soldiers told passing cars to keep moving through the darkness.
Two hours later, soldiers overran the headquarters of the ZBC, Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster and a principal Mugabe mouthpiece, and ordered staff to leave. Several ZBC workers were manhandled, two members of staff and a human rights activist said.
Shortly afterwards, three explosions rocked the centre of the city, witnesses said.
Mugabe chaired a weekly cabinet meeting in the capital yesterday, officials said, and afterwards Zanu-PF said it stood by the ‘‘primacy of politics over the gun’’.
According to a trove of intelligence documents reviewed by Reuters this year, Mnangagwa had been planning to revitalise Zimbabwe’s economy by bringing back thousands of white farmers kicked off their land nearly two decades ago and patching up relations with the likes of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Analysts said the military would want to present their move as something other than a fullblown coup, to avoid criticism from an Africa keen to leave behind the Cold War continental stereotype of generals being the final arbiters of political power.
Zimbabwean soldiers stand next to armoured personnel carriers on a highway just outside the capital, Harare, yesterday.