Zimbabwe reel­ing af­ter army chief’s warn­ing to Mu­gabe


HARARE: Zimbabwe was reel­ing Tues­day af­ter the army warned it could in­ter­vene if Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe con­tin­ued to purge vet­eran rul­ing party fig­ures in an ap­par­ent ef­fort to help his wife suc­ceed him.

Both the rul­ing party’s youth wing and the main op­po­si­tion party called for civil­ian rule to be pro­tected, while an­a­lysts called the cri­sis a po­ten­tial turn­ing point.

Army chief Gen. Con­stantino Chi­wenga on Mon­day warned Mu­gabe to “stop” purges of the rul­ing ZANUPF party af­ter the pres­i­dent abruptly sacked Vice Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa last week.

Mnan­gagwa had clashed re­peat­edly with First Lady Grace Mu­gabe who is widely seen as vy­ing to re­place the 93-year-old leader when he dies.

“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 told top brass at Harare’s King Ge­orge

VI mil­i­tary head­quar­ters in an un­prece­dented in­ter­ven­tion.

He ap­peared to be re­fer­ring to the in­creas­ingly open ef­forts of Grace Mu­gabe to el­e­vate her pub­lic po­si­tion and pub­licly un­der­mine her op­po­nents — in­clud­ing Mnan­gagwa.

The main op­po­si­tion Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change (MDC) called for civil­ian rule to be de­fended fol­low­ing Chi­wenga’s threat.

“No one wants to see a coup — not that I am say­ing there is go­ing to be a coup. If the army takes over that will be un­de­sir­able. It will bring democ­racy to a halt, and that is not healthy for a na­tion,” the MDC’s shadow De­fense Min­is­ter Gift Chi­manikire told AFP.

ZANU-PF’s Youth League, which strongly sup­ports Grace Mu­gabe, said in a state­ment that Chi­wenga would not be al­lowed to pick Zimbabwe’s lead­ers.

“We will stand guard in de­fense of the rev­o­lu­tion — like the peo­ple of Turkey last year who re­pelled rogue se­cu­rity forces from in­ter­fer­ing with an elected gov­ern­ment,” it said.

Nei­ther the ZBC state broad­caster nor the gov­ern­ment-run Her­ald daily cov­ered the army chief’s open threat to Mu­gabe, prompt­ing se­nior com­man­ders to de­mand why his in­ter­ven­tion went un­re­ported.

Spec­u­la­tion has been rife in Harare that Mu­gabe could now re­move Chi­wenga who is seen as an ally of ousted Mnan­gagwa.

The cri­sis “marks an­other land­mark omi­nous mo­ment in the on­go­ing race to suc­ceed” Mu­gabe, said po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Alex Ma­gaisa in an on­line ar­ti­cle.

“(Mu­gabe) has pre­vi­ously warned the mil­i­tary to stay away from ZANU-PF’s suc­ces­sion race.

“His au­thor­ity over the mil­i­tary has never been tested in this way. If he does noth­ing, it might be re­garded as a sign of weak­ness. If he puts his foot down, it could re­sult in open con­fronta­tion.”

Chi­wenga, 61, was on of­fi­cial busi­ness in China when Mnan­gagwa was re­moved. They were both prom­i­nent fig­ures in the strug­gle for in­de­pen­dence from Bri­tain, along with Mu­gabe.

Mnan­gagwa was widely seen as Mu­gabe’s most loyal lieu­tenant hav­ing worked along­side him for more than 40 years and his ouster sent shock­waves through the re­gion.

He fled the coun­try and is thought to be in South Africa but has yet to make a pub­lic ap­pear­ance fol­low­ing his sear­ing five-page con­dem­na­tion of Grace’s am­bi­tion and Mu­gabe’s lead­er­ship style.

Shadrack Gutto, the di­rec­tor of the Cen­ter for African Renaissance Stud­ies at the Univer­sity of South Africa, told AFP that if Grace at­tempted to take con­trol, the army “will throw her out and she can go into ex­ile or die.”

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