Explosions, military vehicles put Zimbabwe capital on edge
Army takes over state broadcaster but says not a coup
HARARE, Zimbabwe — At least three explosions went off 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 93year-old President Robert Mugabe’s possible successor. The ruling party accused the commander of “treasonable conduct.”
The U.S. Embassy was ordered closed to the public and encouraged citizens to shelter in place, citing “the ongoing political uncertainty through the night.”
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.
But Zimbabwe’s army early Wednesday sought to reassure the country that “this is not a military takeover” and that while Mugabe was safe and sound, the military was targeting “criminals around him” who have sent the nation spinning into economic despair.
“As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy,” the army spokesman said, calling on churches to pray for the country.
The army took control of the state Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation late Tuesday, and an army spokesman made the statement on air early Wednesday.
The Associated Press saw armed soldiers assaulting passers-by in Harare, as well as soldiers loading ammunition near four military vehicles. The explosions could be heard near the University of Zimbabwe. 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 successor, fled the country and said he had been threatened. Over 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 as many struggle, 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.
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.
Zimbabwean soldiers sit early Wednesday on a military vehicle in Harare, the capital.