Tanks on the streets as army chiefs con­front Zim­babwe’s age­ing despot

Scottish Daily Mail - - News - By Vanessa Allen

TANKS rolled into Zim­babwe’s cap­i­tal last night, leav­ing the na­tion in po­lit­i­cal chaos as its army chief was ac­cused of at­tempt­ing a coup.

The tur­moil in Harare was an un­prece­dented test of dic­ta­tor Robert Mu­gabe’s 37-year grip on power.

It came a day af­ter the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful gen­er­als warned the 93-year-old pres­i­dent he risked a coup if he con­tin­ued a purge of se­nior fig­ures in his rul­ing Zanu-PF party.

Many fear the sack­ings could clear the way for his wife Grace, 52, to suc­ceed him.

It comes af­ter vice pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa – nick­named The Croc­o­dile – was fired by Mu­gabe last week.

Mr Mnan­gagwa, 75, who has close ties to the mil­i­tary, had been seen as Mu­gabe’s nat­u­ral suces­sor, and af­ter he was ousted, he took aim at Mu­gabe and his sup­port­ers.

He said said Zanu-PF was ‘con­trolled by undis­ci­plined, egotistical and self-serv­ing min­nows who de­rive their power not from the peo­ple and the party but from only two in­di­vid­u­als in the form of the first fam­ily’.

Min­is­ters tried to dis­miss re­ports of an un­fold­ing coup last night as ‘fake news’, but spec­u­la­tion was rife that Mu­gabe and his fam­ily were about to be forced out.

His party said it would never suc­cumb to mil­i­tary pres­sure and ac­cused army chief Gen­eral Con­stantino Chi­wenga of ‘trea­son­able con­duct’ be­cause of his threat to step in to end the po­lit­i­cal purge.

Ar­moured mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles were spot­ted on key roads inside the cap­i­tal’s sub­urbs and there were re­ports of heav­ily armed sol­diers en­forc­ing a lock­down at Mu­gabe’s man­sion and at the head­quar­ters of the state broad­caster.

Two wit­nesses de­scribed see­ing a mil­i­tary con­voy near West­gate shop­ping cen­tre, six miles from cen­tral Harare.

One, a fruit seller, said: ‘I saw a long con­voy of mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles, in­clud­ing tanks.’

So­cial me­dia users said the army head­quar­ters in the city cen­tre were sealed off, with no one al­lowed in or out, and that road blocks were in place out­side the bar­racks of the pres­i­den­tial guard.

Oth­ers said they had seen tanks head­ing to­wards the pres­i­den­tial guard com­pound in the western sub­urb of Dzi­varasekwa. Con­flict- ing re­ports from the im­pov­er­ished south­ern African coun­try claimed the bor­ders had been sealed and the air­port shut, al­though oth­ers in­sisted re­ports of a coup had been ex­ag­ger­ated.

Regime of­fi­cials in­sisted Mu­gabe had chaired a planned cab­i­net meet­ing in the af­ter­noon as usual, and claimed footage of mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles had been faked.

Al­though wit­nesses inside the city de­scribed see­ing ‘tanks’, many images cir­cu­lat­ing on­line showed troops in ar­moured per­son­nel car­ri­ers.

A me­dia black­out ap­peared to be in force and there were con­flict­ing re­ports from inside Harare about the ex­tent of mil­i­tary ma­noeu­vres, and whether a coup was un­der­way or whether the mil­i­tary was sim­ply putting on a show of force to back up its pre­vi­ous threat to step in.

The mil­i­tary has been a key pil­lar of Mu­gabe’s regime and has helped him keep con­trol de­spite eco­nomic ruin, wide­spread anti-gov­ern­ment protests, op­po­si­tion chal­lenges and in­ter­na­tional sanc­tions.

But there has been grow­ing dis­quiet over threats against se­nior fig­ures inside Zanu-PF, in­clud­ing Mr Mnan­gagwa.

The vet­eran of the Sev­en­ties war that led to the coun­try’s in­de­pen­dence fell from favour af­ter he spoke out against a party fac­tion led by Mrs Mu­gabe, say­ing it was ‘plun­der­ing the coun­try’.

Af­ter Mu­gabe ac­cused him of us­ing witch­craft in a plot to take power, Mr Mnan­gagwa fled the coun­try with his fam­ily, but vowed to re­turn and lead a re­bel­lion against the Mu­gabes, backed by the coun­try’s war veter­ans and armed forces.

Be­fore he went into ex­ile, Mr Mnan­gagwa told Mu­gabe that Zanu-PF was ‘not per­sonal prop­erty for you and your wife to do as you please’.

His oust­ing was widely in­ter­preted as a bid to en­sure Mrs Mu­gabe would be­come vice pres­i­dent at a special con­fer­ence of the rul­ing party next month, leav­ing her as the nat­u­ral suc­ces­sor to her husband as pres­i­dent.

Sur­rounded by 90 se­nior army of­fi­cers, Gen­eral Chi­wenga called this week for an end to the sack­ing of se­nior fig­ures linked to the party’s ‘revo­lu­tion’ against white mi­nor­ity rule in the Sev­en­ties.

He said: ‘We must re­mind those be­hind the cur­rent treach­er­ous shenani­gans that when it comes to mat­ters of pro­tect­ing our revo­lu­tion, the mil­i­tary will not hes­i­tate

‘Mil­i­tary will not hes­i­tate to step in’

to step in.’ His com­ments put him on a col­li­sion course with the Mu­gabe regime, which has listed dis­ci­plinary mea­sures against more than 100 se­nior of­fi­cials linked to Mr Mnan­gagwa.

Zanu-PF is­sued a state­ment ac­cus­ing the com­man­der of ‘trea­son­able con­duct’ and said his com­ments were ‘clearly cal­cu­lated to dis­turb na­tional peace and sta­bil­ity’ and to ‘in­cite in­sur­rec­tion’.

Mu­gabe has pre­vi­ously warned mil­i­tary lead­ers against in­ter­fer­ing in the fight for suc­ces­sion.

In July, he told sup­port­ers: ‘Pol­i­tics shall al­ways lead the gun, and not the gun pol­i­tics. Oth­er­wise it will be a coup.’

Op­po­si­tion politi­cians have said a mil­i­tary coup would dam­age Zim­babwe be­cause it would be un­demo­cratic.

Last night the For­eign Of­fice up­dated its ad­vice for peo­ple trav­el­ing to Zim­babwe.

It said: ‘We are aware of re­ports of mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles mov­ing on the out­skirts of Harare.

‘We are mon­i­tor­ing the sit­u­a­tion closely.

‘You should avoid po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity, or ac­tiv­i­ties which could be considered po­lit­i­cal, in­clud­ing po­lit­i­cal dis­cus­sions in pub­lic places and crit­i­cism of the pres­i­dent.

‘You should avoid all demon­stra­tions and ral­lies. The au­thor­i­ties have some­times used force to sup­press demon­stra­tions.’

Dic­ta­tor: Robert and Grace Mu­gabe at a rally last week, call­ing for her to be­come vice pres­i­dent

Tak­ing to the streets: Ar­moured per­son­nel car­ri­ers out­side Harare yes­ter­day Show of might: Troops in the Zim­bab­wean cap­i­tal

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