Mugabe ‘safe’ as army takes power
ZIMBABWE: Zimbabwe’s army says it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody and is securing government offices and patrolling the streets of the capital, Harare, following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.
The action yesterday triggered speculation of a coup, but the military’s supporters praised it as a ‘‘bloodless correction’’.
Armed soldiers in armoured personnel carriers stationed themselves at key points in Harare, while Zimbabweans formed long lines at banks in order to withdraw the limited cash available, a routine chore in the country’s ongoing financial crisis. People looked at their phones to read about the army takeover, and others went to work or to shops.
In an address to the nation after taking control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, an army spokesman said the military was targeting ‘‘criminals’’ around Mugabe, and sought to reassure the country that order would be restored.
It was not clear where Mugabe, 93, and his wife, Grace, were, but it seems they are in the custody of the military.
‘‘Comrade R G Mugabe and his family are safe and sound, and their security is guaranteed,’’ the spokesman said.
‘‘We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover,’’ the army statement said. ‘‘We are only targeting criminals around [Mugabe] who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country, in order to bring them to justice.’’
The spokesman added that ‘‘as soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy’’.
He called on churches to pray for the nation, and urged other security forces to ‘‘cooperate for the good of our country’’, warning that ‘‘any provocation will be met with an appropriate response’’.
The statement called on troops to return to barracks immediately, with all leave cancelled.
During the night, at least three explosions were heard in Harare, and military vehicles were seen in the streets.
Army commander Constantino Chiwenga had threatened on Tuesday to ‘‘step in’’ to calm political tensions. Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party responded by accusing the general of ‘‘treasonable conduct’’. But now Chiwenga appears to be in control.
The army was praised by the nation’s independence war veterans for carrying out ‘‘a bloodless correction of gross abuse of power’’.
The military would return Zimbabwe to ‘‘genuine democracy’’ and make the country a ‘‘modern model nation’’, said Chris Mutsvangwa, chairman of the war veterans’ association.
Mutsvangwa and the war veterans are staunch allies of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was fired from his post of vice president by Mugabe last week. Mnangagwa fled Zimbabwe last week but said he would return to lead the country. The military action targets a faction of ZANU-PF that is allied with Grace Mugabe, who recently made an audacious grab for power, saying she was ready to take over her husband’s job.
For months, the party has wrangled over who will succeed Robert Mugabe. Last week he dismissed his presumed successor, Mnangagwa, who had fallen foul of Grace Mugabe. She compared him to a snake and called for him to be crushed.
For the first time, the southern African nation is seeing an open rift between the military and Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, who has ruled since independence from white minority rule in 1980. The military has been a key pillar of his power.
Zimbabwean soldiers stand next to armoured personnel carriers on a highway just outside the capital, Harare, yesterday.