Mil­i­tary moves put Mu­gabe power in doubt

Ex­plo­sions rock cap­i­tal as troops, tanks roll in

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY FRANK CHIKOWORE

HARARE, ZIMBABWE | The reign of one of Africa’s — and the world’s — long­est-rul­ing au­to­crats hung in the bal­ance Wed­nes­day as tanks and sol­diers rolled into the cen­ter of Harare and at least three ex­plo­sions rocked the tense cap­i­tal amid the es­ca­lat­ing con­flict be­tween long­time Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe and the army.

The mil­i­tary took con­trol of the state Zimbabwe Broad­cast­ing Corp., and an army spokesman read a state­ment on the air early Wed­nes­day in­sist­ing that Mr. Mu­gabe was safe and “this is not a mil­i­tary takeover.”

The uniden­ti­fied spokesman said the mil­i­tary was tar­get­ing the “crim­i­nals around him” and “as soon as we have ac­com­plished our mis­sion, we ex­pect that the sit­u­a­tion will re­turn to nor­malcy.”

The un­prece­dented clash of forces es­ca­lated a cri­sis sparked last week when the in­creas­ingly frail 93-year-old Mr. Mu­gabe fired one of his two vice pres­i­dents, Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa, a pop­u­lar fig­ure within the rank and file

of the rul­ing ZANU-PF party with deep ties to the mil­i­tary, who was widely seen as a suc­ces­sor to Mr. Mu­gabe.

Po­lit­i­cal an­a­lysts say the purge was mo­ti­vated by Mr. Mu­gabe’s hopes of hand­ing off power af­ter nearly four decades to his po­lar­iz­ing 52-year-old wife, Grace Mu­gabe.

“There was a huge num­ber of sol­diers in army uni­form pa­trolling the streets,” said Phineas Gore, 39, a car­pen­ter who lives in down­town Harare. “This was un­usual. Nor­mally uni­formed sol­diers would stay in their bar­racks un­less it would be at the end of the month, when they would be col­lect­ing their salar­ies from banks.”

Wire ser­vice re­ports first tracked the dis­patch of at least six ar­mored per­son­nel car­ri­ers from a bar­racks north­west of Harare. Four ve­hi­cles in the con­voy broke off to head to­ward the Pres­i­den­tial Guard com­pound in a sub­urb on the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal.

The Associated Press re­ported early Wed­nes­day that at least three ex­plo­sions were heard in the cap­i­tal near the Univer­sity of Zimbabwe cam­pus. Sol­diers could be seen man­han­dling crowds on the street, the AP re­ported.

The U.S. and Bri­tish em­bassies said they would be closed to the pub­lic Wed­nes­day and warned their re­spec­tive cit­i­zens to shel­ter in place be­cause of, in the words of the Amer­i­can state­ment, “the on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal un­cer­tainty through the night.”

Army of­fi­cials did not re­spond to in­quiries about the mo­bi­liza­tion, but a Mu­gabe spokesman in­sisted the army was vi­o­lat­ing the law.

“The rul­ing Zimbabwe African Na­tional Union — Pa­tri­otic Front (ZANUPF) — reaf­firms the pri­macy of pol­i­tics over the gun,” Mu­gabe spokesman and party in­for­ma­tion sec­re­tary Si­mon Khaya Moyo said in a state­ment.

Still, there have been signs that Mr. Mu­gabe’s iron grip on power has been slip­ping in re­cent days. On Mon­day, Zimbabwe De­fense Forces Com­man­der Con­stan­tine Chi­wenga held an ex­tra­or­di­nary press con­fer­ence in which he openly crit­i­cized the pres­i­dent’s move against Mr. Mnan­gagwa.

“The cur­rent purg­ing and cleans­ing process in ZANU-PF, which so far is tar­get­ing mostly mem­bers associated with our lib­er­a­tion his­tory, is a se­ri­ous cause for con­cern for us in the de­fense forces,” said Gen. Chi­wenga. “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.”

Mu­gabe sup­port­ers pledged to stand up to the army if nec­es­sary to keep their leader in power.

“It is our coun­try and fu­ture at stake, and we will not let any in­di­vid­ual mil­i­tary man in­ter­fere with the leader of the party and the le­git­i­mately voted pres­i­dent of this coun­try,” said Kudzanai Chipanga, leader of the youth wing of Mr. Mu­gabe’s party. “We also wish to re­mind them that con­niv­ing and con­spir­ing to over­throw a con­sti­tu­tion­ally elected gov­ern­ment is a crime.”

Mr. Mu­gabe’s sup­port­ers in the rul­ing party is­sued a state­ment Tues­day evening ac­cus­ing Gen. Chi­wenga of “trea­son­able con­duct.” They said his comments were “meant to in­cite in­sur­rec­tion.”

The state-run Zimbabwe Broad­cast­ing Corp. read out part of the rul­ing party state­ment late in the nightly news, which was led by a re­port on re­gional tourism, The Associated Press re­ported.

The de­vel­op­ments could spell the end of Mr. Mu­gabe’s 37 years in power. Dur­ing that pe­riod, he trans­formed from a hero of the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle that ended colo­nial Bri­tish rule to a strong­man who has been ac­cused of un­der­min­ing hu­man rights, in­tim­i­dat­ing po­ten­tial ri­vals and run­ning the pri­vate econ­omy into the ground in a bid to hold on to power.

Spe­cial congress

ZANU-PF of­fi­cials have al­ready des­ig­nated Mr. Mu­gabe as their pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for next year, but his ad­vanc­ing age and party in­fight­ing led him to call a spe­cial congress next month to re­or­ga­nize the party in what ap­pears to be a trans­par­ent bid to re­main in con­trol.

“Fac­tion­al­ism is rear­ing its ugly head in the party,” Fi­nance Min­is­ter Ig­natius Chombo, a Mu­gabe backer, said in an in­ter­view a few days be­fore the tanks and sol­diers ap­peared. “We have peo­ple who in­di­cate left but turn right — for­get­ting that we have one cen­ter of power built around His Ex­cel­lency Pres­i­dent Robert Gabriel Mu­gabe.”

Mr. Mnan­gagwa, a lawyer by train­ing who was also a lead­ing fig­ure in the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle of the 1970s and 1980s, has been angling for years to take over from Mr. Mu­gabe. But he is fac­ing off with Mrs. Mu­gabe, who has grad­u­ally stepped up her cam­paign to suc­ceed her hus­band.

Mr. Mnan­gagwa’s sup­port­ers said he is their only hope to move the coun­try and its mori­bund econ­omy for­ward.

“We are pledg­ing our sup­port to Mnan­gagwa. We can­not al­low the coun­try to be cap­tured by the Mu­gabes, who want to cre­ate a dy­nasty us­ing peo­ple with links to the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency,” said Ton­derai Chi­dawa, who heads a pro-Mnan­gagwa youth lobby group called Zimbabwe Youth Ac­tion Plat­form.

The power strug­gle has be­come in­tensely per­sonal at times.

Mrs. Mu­gabe has re­sponded to the crit­i­cisms by not­ing that Mr. Mnan­gagwa’s wife as­sumed his seat in par­lia­ment when he be­came vice pres­i­dent.

The ten­sions came into fo­cus last week when, just be­fore his ex­pul­sion from gov­ern­ment, Mr. Mnan­gagwa re­leased a re­port to ZANU-PF lead­ers ac­cus­ing Higher Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Jonathan Moyo, a Mu­gabe sup­porter, of be­ing a CIA agent plot­ting to de­stroy the party from within.

Weeks ear­lier, Mr. Moyo, an ally of Mrs. Mu­gabe, ac­cused Mr. Mnan­gagwa of plot­ting to oust him through un­con­sti­tu­tional means.

Mr. Mnan­gagwa’s dis­missal paved the way for Mr. Mu­gabe to make his wife vice pres­i­dent. In 2014, ZANU-PF law­mak­ers amended the con­sti­tu­tion to let the pres­i­dent ap­point his Cab­i­net with­out over­sight.

“Mu­gabe can use his pow­ers in terms of his party’s con­sti­tu­tion to ap­point any per­son of his choice at any time,” said Earnest Mudzengi, a Mu­gabe critic. “If he wants Grace to be his vice pres­i­dent, that could eas­ily be an act of po­si­tion­ing as his suc­ces­sor.”

Mr. Mu­gabe sim­i­larly fired Vice Pres­i­dent Joice Mu­juru in 2014 on charges of plot­ting to as­sas­si­nate the vet­eran leader. Ms. Mu­juru de­nied the charges and has since formed the op­po­si­tion Na­tional Peo­ple’s Party.

De­spite the show of force on Harare’s streets Tues­day, it is not clear whether Mr. Mnan­gagwa has suf­fi­cient sup­port to take over the ZANU-PF.

The ousted vice pres­i­dent still “con­trols nine out of 10 of the party’s pro­vin­cial struc­tures coun­try­wide,” said Temba Mliswa, an in­de­pen­dent law­maker who was ex­pelled from ZANU-PF a few years ago af­ter lead­ers ques­tioned her loy­alty to the pres­i­dent. “Those struc­tures could even elect him to lead the rul­ing party and the coun­try if they chose him at the congress in De­cem­ber.”

But Barn­abas Thondhlana, ed­i­tor of the in­de­pen­dent Ob­server news­pa­per, was skep­ti­cal that the ex-vice pres­i­dent could con­trol the party’s ap­pa­ra­tus in that man­ner — which may be why the mil­i­tary has in­ter­vened.

“Mu­gabe’s word will carry the day at the congress be­cause they all fear Mu­gabe,” said Mr. Thondhlana.

ASSOCIATED PRESS

PURG­ING: Zim­bab­wean leader Robert Mu­gabe has an­gered the mil­i­tary by fir­ing his deputy.

Zimbabwe’s army leader Con­stantino Chi­wenga has threat­ened to “step in” to calm po­lit­i­cal ten­sions in the coun­try.

ASSOCIATED PRESS PHOTOGRAPHS

Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa, who was fired as Zimbabwe’s vice pres­i­dent, said he left the coun­try af­ter “in­ces­sant threats.”

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