Zim­babwe: Army Sends Ar­moured Tanks into Harare


Ar­moured ve­hi­cles were seen head­ing to­wards Harare, a day af­ter the armed forces chief, Gen­eral Con­stantino Chi­wenga said he was pre­pared to “step in” to end a purge of sup­port­ers of for­mer vice-pres­i­dent, Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa.

Ac­cord­ing to re­ports by Reuters and the News Agency of Nige­ria (NAN), two tanks were spot­ted be­side the main road from Harare to Chin­hoyi, about 20 km (14 miles) from the city. One, which was pointed in the di­rec­tion of the cap­i­tal, had come off its tracks.

Busi­ness con­tin­ued nor­mally inside the cap­i­tal and there was no sign of a ma­jor mil­i­tary pres­ence on the streets. Hours af­ter the tanks were spot­ted, state me­dia car­ried no ex­tra­or­di­nary re­ports. Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials could not be reached for com­ment.

Wit­nesses said they saw four ar­moured ve­hi­cles turn be­fore reach­ing Harare, head­ing to­wards the Pres­i­den­tial Guard com­pound in a sub­urb called Dzi­varasekwa on the out­skirts of Harare

“There were about four tanks and they turned right here, you can see mark­ings on the road,” one wit­ness on the Chin­hoyi high­way said point­ing to a road that links up to the Pres­i­den­tial Guard com­pound that houses the bat­tal­ion that pro­tects Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe.

Mu­gabe, the only leader Zim­babwe has known in 37 years of in­de­pen­dence, chaired a weekly cab­i­net meet­ing in the cap­i­tal.

In an un­prece­dented step, the head of the armed forces, Con­stantino Chi­wenga, openly threat­ened to in­ter­vene in pol­i­tics on Mon­day, a week af­ter Mu­gabe fired Vice Pres­i­dent Emer­son Mnan­gagwa, long seen as 93-yearold Mu­gabe’s likely suc­ces­sor.

Mnan­gagwa, a vet­eran of Zim­babwe’s 1970s lib­er­a­tion wars, was pop­u­lar with the mil­i­tary, which viewed his re­moval as part of a purge of in­de­pen­dence-era fig­ures to pave the way for Mu­gabe to hand power to his wife Grace, 52.

“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,” Chi­wenga said in a state­ment read to re­porters at a news con­fer­ence packed with top brass on Mon­day.

Grace Mu­gabe has de­vel­oped a strong fol­low­ing in the pow­er­ful youth wing of the rul­ing party. Her 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 in­creas­ingly been ban­ished from se­nior gov­ern­ment and party roles in re­cent years.

Nei­ther the pres­i­dent nor his wife re­sponded im­me­di­ately to the gen­eral’s remarks, but on Tues­day the head of ZANU-PF’s youth wing ac­cused the army chief of sub­vert­ing the con­sti­tu­tion.

“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.

The ris­ing po­lit­i­cal ten­sion in the south­ern African coun­try comes at a time when it is strug­gling to pay for im­ports due to a dol­lar crunch, which has also caused acute cash short­ages.

Zim­babwe’s state me­dia re­frained from pub­lish­ing Chi­wenga’s state­ment. The Her­ald news­pa­per, which had ini­tially posted some of Chi­wenga’s com­ments on its of­fi­cial Twit­ter page on Mon­day, deleted the posts with­out ex­pla­na­tion.

A se­nior South African diplo­mat said Pre­to­ria had scram­bled its of­fi­cials in Harare to try to find out what was go­ing on, but at the mo­ment they had lit­tle con­clu­sive in­for­ma­tion.

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 Bri­tish­based 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.

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