ZIMBABWE ON KNIFE EDGE?
Constantine Chiwenga addressed a press conference in Harare on Monday. He spoke about saving the “revolution”, writes 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…”
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.