Military now prowls Zimbabwe’s capital
After 3 explosions heard, army chief addresses nation’s political tensions
HARARE, Zimbabwe — At least three explosions were heard in Zimbabwe’s capital early Wednesday, and military vehicles were seen in the streets after the army commander threatened to “step in” to calm political tensions over 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe’s possible successor. The ruling party accused the commander of “treasonable conduct.”
The U.S. Embassy closed to the public and encouraged citizens to shelter in place, citing “the ongoing political uncertainty through the night.”
Vice president fired
For the first time, this southern African nation is seeing an open rift between the military and Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state who has ruled since independence from white minority rule in 1980. The military has been a key pillar of his power.
The Associated Press saw armed soldiers assaulting passers-by in the early morning hours in Harare, as well as soldiers loading ammunition near a group of four military vehicles. The explosions could be heard near the University of Zimbabwe campus. The developments came several hours after the AP saw three armored personnel carriers in a convoy heading toward an army barracks just outside the capital.
Mugabe last week fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and accused him of plotting to take power, including through witchcraft. Mnangagwa, who enjoyed the military’s backing and once was seen as a potential president, fled the country. More than 100 senior officials allegedly supporting him have been listed for disciplinary measures by a faction associated with Mugabe’s wife, Grace.
The first lady now appears positioned to replace Mnangagwa as one of the country’s two vice presidents at a special conference of the ruling party in December, leading many in Zimbabwe to suspect that she could succeed her husband. Grace Mugabe is unpopular with some Zimbabweans because of her lavish spending, and four people accused of booing her at a recent rally were arrested.
The president reportedly attended a weekly Cabinet meeting Tuesday as the military vehicles were first sighted. It was not clear where his wife was.
On Monday, army commander Constantino Chiwenga issued an unprecedented statement saying purges against senior ruling ZANU-PF party officials, many of whom like Mnangagwa fought for liberation, should end “forthwith.”
“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,” the army commander said.
On Tuesday night the ruling party issued a statement accusing the army commander of “treasonable conduct,” saying his comments were “clearly calculated to disturb national peace and stability” and were “meant to incite insurrection.” It was not clear whether the commander still had his post.
Zimbabwean soldiers keep watch from an armored vehicle after three explosions were heard early Wednesday in the capital of Harare.