COUP THREAT TO MUGABE
Tanks on the streets as army chiefs confront Zimbabwe’s ageing despot
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