Mu­gabe ‘safe’ as fears of coup grow

Taranaki Daily News - - World -

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.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Zim­bab­wean soldiers stand next to ar­moured per­son­nel car­ri­ers on a high­way just out­side the cap­i­tal, Harare, yes­ter­day.

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