Zim army takes control
Mugabe and Grace ‘under house arrest’
ZIMBABWE’S army says it is in control of the country. It said this when it took over the state broadcaster early today.
Several cabinet ministers and other leaders have allegedly been arrested.
The army moved in on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) at midnight and broadcast to the nation, saying President Robert Mugabe and his family were safe in their home.
“So although it doesn’t look like a coup, it is a coup,” said Alex Magaisa, a senior Zimbabwe legal analyst based in the UK.
The army has moved in to block roads leading to State House and the new government buildings in the centre of Harare.
Occasional gunfire was heard early in the morning in the posh northern suburbs where most key government people live.
Several cabinet ministers, such as Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere and Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, and Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwayo, were arrested.
All of them are part of the G40 faction of Zanu-PF which is loyal to Grace Mugabe.
Rumours were circulating that Mugabe and his unpopular wife, Grace, had been offered safe passage to Singapore, but this could not be confirmed.
As far as possible, army sources said, life would continue. The airport was still operating and normal travel would continue.
This action by the army was prompted by the sacking last week of vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who has been at Mugabe’s side for more then 40 years. He fled to South Africa last week.
At least four armoured troop carriers rolled into the Zimbabwean capital yesterday afternoon, a day after General Constantine Chiwenga, head of the armed forces, threatened to “step in” over the sacking of Mnangagwa, who became vice-president in 2014.
Tensions have been building in Zimbabwe since Mnangagwa, a powerful figure in Zanu-PF party, fled to South Africa last week after he was fired and was then stripped of his lifetime membership of the party.
The move was widely seen as part of a battle between Mnangagwa and Grace Mugabe, the first lady, over the presidential succession when Mugabe dies or steps down. The Zimbabwean president, who is 93, fights his last election next year. He has been in power for 37 years.
Many had expected Grace Mugabe to be appointed vice-president in Mnangagwa’s place at the Zanu-PF special congress next month.
Chiwenga, an ally of Mnangagwa, demanded on Monday that Mugabe immediately cease “purging” the former vice-president’s allies in the party and in government.
“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,” he said.
In a statement issued late yesterday, Zanu-PF accused Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct”.
Earlier yesterday, Kudzai Chipanga, the leader of Zanu-PF’s youth wing, accused Chiwenga of stealing billions of rand and said his movement would act to protect the president.
“We as Zanu-PF youth league are a lion which has awakened and found its voice, therefore we will not sit idly and fold our hands whilst cheap pot-shots and threats are made against Mugabe,” he said in a statement released on social media.
The military in South Africa and Zambian diplomats warned military leaders in Harare not to take any “unconstitutional” steps to avenge Mnangagwa.
Zambian President Edgar Lungu also warned General Chiwenga to ensure that Zimbabwe’s constitution was respected.
Harare was calm and the city centre deserted last night.
Reports from military sources in Harare said: “We are in control,” without giving more detail.
A source living close to Mugabe’s mansion said: “All is normal here. Traffic is coming and going.”
“It feels just like any other day,” said a businessman who had just driven through the centre of Harare and asked not to be identified. “We presume any coup plotters would know that Zimbabwe would run out of fuel in a week or so, and that South Africa would likely cut off electricity. Zimbabwe is a landlocked country and cannot survive if all borders were closed.”
Mugabe chaired a cabinet which went on until early evening at State House in Harare yesterday, but then the army moved in on the ZBC just before midnight.
One staffer claimed he had been hurt, but other reporters and technical staff made way for the army, according to information emerging from Harare. Some sources in Harare said Mugabe had invited General Chiwenga to the office for discussions earlier in the day, but that the invitation was ignored and that the president later decided to sack the general after the armoured troop carriers arrived in Harare late in the afternoon.
A military intervention in Zimbabwean politics may be fraught with difficulties.
The African Union and the Southern African Development Community are both on record that they do not recognise any authority which comes to power via a coup d’etat.
While Gen Chiwenga backs Mnangagwa, who leads a faction in Zanu-PF called “Lacoste,” some senior officers are close to the G40, the faction of more junior members of the ruling party, loyal to Grace Mugabe.
A military tank and armed soldiers on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe’s office in Harare today. At least three explosions have been heard on the streets. Zimbabwe’s ruling party is accusing the army commander of ‘treasonable conduct’ for his threat to have the military step in and calm the political turmoil. For the first time, Zimbabwe is seeing an open rift between the military and 93-year-old Mugabe.
Soldiers stand beside military vehicles just outside Harare.