‘This is not a mil­i­tary takeover,’ Zim­babwe’s army says af­ter ini­tial threat

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY FARAI MUT­SAKA

harare, zim­babwe — In an ex­tra­or­di­nary state­ment af­ter tak­ing over the state broad­caster dur­ing a night of un­rest, Zim­babwe’s army said early Wed­nes­day it was only tar­get­ing “crim­i­nals” around Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe and sought to re­as­sure the coun­try that “this is not a mil­i­tary takeover.”

Mu­gabe and his wife were safe and sound, an army spokesman said.

“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. He urged other ele­ments of the se­cu­rity forces to “co­op­er­ate for the good of our coun­try,” warn­ing that “any provo­ca­tion will be met with an ap­pro­pri­ate re­sponse.”

Overnight, at least three ex­plo­sions were heard in the cap­i­tal, Harare, and mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles were seen in the streets. On Mon­day, the armed forces com­man­der had threat­ened to “step in” to calm po­lit­i­cal ten­sions over the 93-yearold Mu­gabe’s pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor. The gov­ern­ing party, ZANU-PF, ac­cused the com­man­der of “trea­son­able con­duct.”

The U.S. Em­bassy closed to the pub­lic Wed­nes­day and en­cour­aged Amer­i­cans in the coun­try to shel­ter in place, cit­ing “the on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty through the night.” The Bri­tish Em­bassy is­sued a sim­i­lar warn­ing, cit­ing “re­ports of un­usual mil­i­tary ac­tiv­ity.”

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.

It was not clear where Mu­gabe and his wife were Wed­nes­day, but it seems they are in the cus­tody of the mil­i­tary. “Their se­cu­rity is guar­an­teed,” the army state­ment said. The pres­i­dent re­port­edly at­tended a weekly cab­i­net meet­ing Tues­day.

“We wish to make it abun­dantly clear that this is not a mil­i­tary takeover,” the army state­ment said. “We are only tar­get­ing crim­i­nals around [Mu­gabe] who are com­mit­ting crimes that are caus­ing so­cial and eco­nomic suf­fer­ing in the coun­try in order to bring them to jus­tice.”

The state­ment called on troops to re­port to bar­racks im­me­di­ately, with all leave can­celed.

Overnight, the As­so­ci­ated Press saw armed sol­diers as­sault­ing passersby in Harare, as well as sol­diers load­ing am­mu­ni­tion near a group of four mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles. 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, ac­cus­ing him of plot­ting to take power, in­clud­ing by witch­craft. Mnan­gagwa, who en­joyed the mil­i­tary’s back­ing and once was seen as a po­ten­tial pres­i­dent, fled the coun­try and said he had been threat­ened. More than 100 se­nior of­fi­cials al­legedly back­ing him have been listed for dis­ci­plinary mea­sures by a fac­tion as­so­ci­ated with Mu­gabe’s wife, Grace.

The first lady ap­peared to be po­si­tioned to re­place Mnan­gagwa as one of the coun­try’s two vice pres­i­dents at a special con­fer­ence of the gov­ern­ing 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 while many strug­gle fi­nan­cially.

On Mon­day, armed forces com­man­der Gen. Con­stantino Chi­wenga is­sued an un­prece­dented state­ment say­ing purges against se­nior 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,” Chi­wenga said. The state-run broad­caster did not re­port on his state­ment.

Frus­tra­tion has been grow­ing in once-pros­per­ous Zim­babwe as the econ­omy con­tin­ues its col­lapse un­der Mu­gabe. The coun­try was shaken last year by the big­gest anti-gov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions in a decade.

JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Gen. Con­stantino Chi­wenga, right, head of the Zim­babwe De­fense Forces, shown with Lt. Gen. Va­le­rio Sibanda, head of the Zim­babwe Na­tional Army, speaks at a news con­fer­ence Mon­day.

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