ZIMBABWE ON KNIFE EDGE?

Con­stan­tine Chi­wenga ad­dressed a press con­fer­ence in Harare on Mon­day. He spoke about sav­ing the “rev­o­lu­tion”, writes Peta Thornycroft

The Star Late Edition - - FRONT PAGE - PETA THORNYCROFT

A video of tankers said to be head­ing to Harare, Zimbabwe’s cap­i­tal, set so­cial me­dia ablaze as ru­mours of a coup swelled yes­ter­day.

HARARE: While busi­ness and all other life con­tin­ued nor­mally in Harare yes­ter­day, many were con­cerned about four ar­moured troop car­ri­ers that were mov­ing south to­wards the cap­i­tal late in the af­ter­noon. Some me­dia re­ported the ve­hi­cles were tanks.

There was reg­u­lar traf­fic around Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe’s huge pri­vate res­i­dence in the north­ern Bor­row­dale sub­urb late in the af­ter­noon, all the roads were as nor­mal around State House, and no ex­tra po­lice or mem­bers of the Pres­i­den­tial Guard had been de­ployed, ac­cord­ing to sev­eral peo­ple who live nearby.

Em­bassies also did not is­sue any se­cu­rity alert to sug­gest that a coup was un­fold­ing in the im­pov­er­ished coun­try.

Oth­ers said they had not no­ticed any un­usual events or un­usual pres­ence of the army or po­lice since armed forces com­man­der Con­stan­tine Chi­wenga de­manded on Mon­day that Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe im­me­di­ately cease “purg­ing” al­lies of Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa, who was sacked from his vice-pres­i­dent’s job a week ago and fled to Mozam­bique, and then South Africa.

Po­lice raided a small NGO, Magamba, late yes­ter­day. Its man­ager, US cit­i­zen Martha O’Dono­van, was re­leased on bail on Mon­day af­ter be­ing ac­cused of tweet­ing mes­sages crit­i­cal of Mu­gabe, charges she de­nies.

“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 close.”

Ear­lier in the day, rul­ing Zanu-PF youth leader Kudzai Chipanga held a press con­fer­ence in Harare, but blocked some me­dia from at­tend­ing. “We, as the Zanu-PF youth league, are a lion which has awak­ened and found its voice, there­fore we will not sit idly and fold our hands while cheap pot­shots and threats are made against Mu­gabe,” he said. He ac­cused Chi­wenga of theft of bil­lions of rand.

Not all army se­niors sup­port Chi­wenga and his ally, Mnan­gagwa, and some se­niors are close to the other Zanu-PF fac­tion, G40 – loyal to first lady Grace Mu­gabe and her crew of more ju­nior mem­bers of Zanu-PF. – For­eign Ser­vice

ZIMBABWE’S armed forces boss, Con­stan­tine Chi­wenga, made head­lines when he ad­dressed a press con­fer­ence in Harare on Mon­day. He was speak­ing about sav­ing the “rev­o­lu­tion”, so that Zanu-PF can win elec­tions again next year.

Many know he sup­ports Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa, sacked as vice-pres­i­dent last week be­cause Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe lost his tem­per af­ter a few peo­ple booed his wife, Grace, at a rally 10 days ago.

The fear is, in some quar­ters, that sol­diers will go on the ram­page and the army will have a shootout with the po­lice who sup­port Grace and her G40 fac­tion in Zanu-PF.

This squab­bling within Zanu-PF is about who suc­ceeds Mu­gabe, who will be 94 when he stands for re-elec­tion next year. Mnan­gagwa, 75, wants to suc­ceed Mu­gabe. He never made a se­cret of this.

He felt cheated in 2004, when Mu­gabe ap­pointed Joice Mu­juru, 62, as the first woman vice-pres­i­dent of Zimbabwe. She was wife to the one man Mu­gabe feared, lib­er­a­tion war-time com­man­der, Solomon Mu­juru.

Mnan­gagwa was in­fu­ri­ated. And time was tick­ing. Mu­juru was pop­u­lar, much younger than he, she didn’t, like he, have a bad hu­man rights record, and, yes, she was a woman.

But Mu­juru could also eas­ily win a par­lia­men­tary seat in her home area and Mnan­gagwa was beaten in two elec­tions by the op­po­si­tion Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change can­di­date.

So Mu­juru built up sup­port and most prov­inces sup­ported her ahead of the Zanu-PF congress in 2014.

Mnan­gagwa went into an al­liance with Grace, who has the most ex­pen­sive life­style Zim­bab­weans have ever seen.

Part of the plan to get rid of Mu­juru meant Grace had to get into a top post in Zanu-PF. So she was first ma­nip­u­lated into lead­er­ship of the Zanu-PF women’s league. Then she was awarded a phoney PhD at the Univer­sity of Zimbabwe – Mu­juru had re­cently been awarded her PhD af­ter years of study – and then Grace be­gan a se­ries of ral­lies around Zimbabwe telling out­ra­geous lies about Mu­juru.

Mu­juru lost her post in Zanu-PF at the party congress, and was then ex­pelled from the party af­ter be­ing ac­cused of want­ing to mur­der Mu­gabe, com­mit a coup d’etat, etc.

Grace was then safe from Mu­juru, who she feared might be more pop­u­lar than her hus­band. And her ally in the oust­ing of Mu­juru, Mnan­gagwa, be­came vice-pres­i­dent. Fi­nally, 10 years later than he planned.

Chi­wenga’s press con­fer­ence was not about democ­racy: he made it clear pre­vi­ously that he, as a se­nior pub­lic ser­vant, was par­ti­san, that he and his col­leagues would not recog­nise the MDC if it won power at the polls. He would not salute MDC leader Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai if he be­came pres­i­dent of Zimbabwe.

His press con­fer­ence on Mon­day was about his pal Mnan­gagwa. Chi­wenga would say, in con­fi­dence (not on any pub­lic plat­form), that he be­lieves Mnan­gagwa should in­herit the pres­i­den­tial crown when Mu­gabe dies or quits.

Even he would not dare say Mnan­gagwa should take over now, be­cause Mu­gabe is too old. But that is what many be­lieve, es­pe­cially those in the busi­ness com­mu­nity as Mu­gabe has been a dis­as­trous pres­i­dent at every level.

Zimbabwe has no cur­rency, can’t set­tle for­eign and do­mes­tic debt, there is no money in the banks, and the health sec­tor col­lapsed and even ed­u­ca­tion, es­pe­cially in the ru­ral ar­eas, is so much worse than most re­alise.

Chi­wenga, sur­rounded by mem­bers of the air force and other se­nior mil­i­tary men, is fu­ri­ous that Mnan­gagwa has been kicked out. That many of their al­lies within Zanu-PF are now un­der threat and may be purged. He, Chi­wenga, might be on his way out too. His con­tract ex­pired in July.

No one is sure whether the army would in­deed chal­lenge the po­lice and move against Mu­gabe. But the fear is there.

Grace’s G40 fac­tion doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily want her to suc­ceed Mu­gabe as pres­i­dent. They al­most cer­tainly know that it is a step too far, and she is ir­ra­tional and un­bal­anced and too greedy, but they want her there as vice-pres­i­dent to pro­tect Mu­gabe un­til he dies, or can­not rule any longer, and then they will prob­a­bly want de­fence min­is­ter Sid­ney Sek­era­mayi in his place.

At this stage, to call on the “rev­o­lu­tion”, as Chi­wenga has done, has un­known con­se­quences. Mnan­gagwa, on his own, can’t win elec­tions. In an al­liance with the MDC, Mu­juru and oth­ers, maybe he could.

The po­lit­i­cal wa­ters in Harare are murky. Many com­men­ta­tors are not sure what to say. But David Coltart, Zimbabwe’s pre-emi­nent hu­man rights lawyer, who learned pol­i­tics as a newly qual­i­fied young man when he acted for many op­po­si­tion lead­ers who were bru­talised by Mu­gabe and Zanu-PF shortly af­ter in­de­pen­dence, said last Wed­nes­day: “Zimbabwe faces a grave con­sti­tu­tional cri­sis. For all the am­bi­gu­ity in Gen­eral Chi­wenga’s state­ment, it chal­lenges Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe, ei­ther to turn his back on his wife and other mem­bers of the G40 fac­tion, or face the wrath of the mil­i­tary…”

PIC­TURE: SO­CIAL ME­DIA

PIC­TURE: TSVANGIRAYI MUKWAZHI / AP

LIS­TEN TO ME: Zimbabwe’s Army Com­man­der Con­stantino Chi­wenga said that the mil­i­tary “will not hes­i­tate to step in,” days af­ter Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe fired his vice-pres­i­dent who en­joyed the sup­port of the army and was once viewed as a po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor.

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