International

Zimbabwe Army seizes power, President Robert Mugabe 'confined to his home'

A tank is seen with soldiers on the road leading to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s office in Harare on November 15, 2017.

A tank is seen with soldiers on the road leading to Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s office in Harare on November 15, 2017.   | Photo Credit: AP

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Army says it has taken power to target ‘criminals’ around the President; It views the sacking of the Vice-President as part of a purge; South Africa to send envoys to meet with Mugabe.

Zimbabwe’s military said it had seized power in a targeted assault on “criminals” around President Robert Mugabe, who were causing social and economic suffering, but came out with an assurance that the 93-year-old leader and his family were “safe and sound". The army said today it has the President and his wife in custody and was securing government offices and patrolling the capital’s streets following a night of unrest.

In a statement, the South African presidency said President Jacob Zuma spoke to Mr. Mugabe on November 15, and the latter told the former that he was confined to his home but he was fine. Mr. Zuma, in his capacity as chair of the Southern African Development Community, was sending special envoys to Zimbabwe to meet with Mr. Mugabe and the Zimbabwean Defence Force, which has seized power in Harare.

Zimbabwean soldiers and armoured vehicles blocked roads to the main government offices, Parliament and the courts in central Harare, a witness told Reuters on November 15.

Zimbabweans queued up for cash outside banks as public taxis ferried commuters to work.

 

 

“We are only targeting criminals around him [Mr. Mugabe], who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” Zimbabwe Major General S.B. Moyo, Chief of Staff Logistics, said on national television on November 15. “As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”

The military detained Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo on November 15, a government source said. Mr. Chombo was a leading member of the so-called ‘G40’ faction of the ruling ZANU-PF party, led by Mr. Mugabe’s wife Grace, that had been vying to succeed Mr. Mugabe.

Soldiers were deployed across Harare on November 14 and they seized the state broadcaster after the ZANU-PF party accused the head of the military of treason, prompting frenzied speculation of a coup.

Armed Zimbabwean soldiers sit on top of a military tank in Harare, on Wednesday. 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."

Armed Zimbabwean soldiers sit on top of a military tank in Harare, on Wednesday. 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."   | Photo Credit: AP

 

Just 24 hours after military chief, General Constantino Chiwenga, threatened to intervene to end a purge of his allies in the ZANU-PF, a Reuters reporter saw armoured personnel carriers on main roads around the capital.

Two hours later, soldiers overran the headquarters of the ZBC, Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster and a principal Mugabe mouthpiece, and ordered the staff to leave. Several ZBC workers were manhandled, two members of staff and a human rights activist said.

Shortly afterwards, three explosions rocked the centre of the southern African nation’s capital, witnesses told Reuters.

 

Mr. Mugabe has led Zimbabwe for the last 37 years.

In contrast to his elevated status on the continent, Mr. Mugabe is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power destroyed one of Africa’s most promising states.

The United States and Britain advised their citizens in Harare to stay indoors because of “political uncertainty”.

“U.S. citizens in Zimbabwe are encouraged to shelter in place until further notice,” a U.S. statement said. The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office statement told “nationals currently in Harare to remain safely at home or in their accommodation until the situation becomes clearer”.

Soldiers stop a vehicle to search on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe’s office in Harare on November 15, 2017.

Soldiers stop a vehicle to search on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe’s office in Harare on November 15, 2017.   | Photo Credit: AP

 

The Southern African nation has been on the edge since November 13 when Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, said he was prepared to “step in” to end a purge of supporters of sacked Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Only a few months ago, Mr. Mnangagwa, a former security chief nicknamed “The Crocodile”, was favourite to succeed his life-long political patron but was ousted a week ago to pave the way for Mr. Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace to succeed him.

‘Politics over the gun’

Mr. Chiwenga’s unprecedented statement represented a major escalation of the struggle to succeed Mr. Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabwe has known since it gained independence from Britain in 1980.

Mr. Mugabe chaired a weekly Cabinet meeting in the capital on November 14, officials said, and afterwards ZANU-PF said it stood by the “primacy of politics over the gun” and accused Mr. Chiwenga of "treasonable conduct... meant to incite insurrection”.

The previous day, Mr. Chiwenga made clear the Army’s refusal to accept the removal of Mr. Mnangagwa — like the generals a veteran of Zimbabwe’s anti-colonial liberation war — and the presumed accession of Ms. Grace, once a secretary in the government typing pool.

Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, a leading figure in her relatively youthful ‘G40’ faction, refused to answer Reuters' questions about the situation in Harare. “I’m in a meeting,” he said, before hanging up shortly before midnight.

Army, police and government spokesmen refused to answer numerous phone calls asking for comment.

 ‘Defending our revolution’

Neither Mr. Mugabe nor Ms. Grace have responded in public to Mr. Chiwenga’s remarks and the state media did not publish his statement. The Herald newspaper posted some of the comments on its Twitter page but deleted them.

The head of ZANU-PF’s youth wing, which openly backs Ms. Grace, accused the Army chief of subverting the constitution.

“Defending the revolution and our leader and president is an ideal we live for and if need be it is a principle we are prepared to die for,” Youth League leader Kudzai Chipanga said at the party’s headquarters in Harare.

Ms. Grace’s rise has brought her into conflict with the independence-era war veterans, who enjoyed privileged status in Zimbabwe until the last two years when they spearheaded criticism of Mr. Mugabe’s handling of the economy.

In the last year, a chronic absence of dollars has led to long queues outside banks and an economic and financial collapse that many fear will rival the meltdown of 2007-2008, when inflation topped out at 500,000,000,000%.

Imported goods are running out and economists say that, by some measures, inflation is now at 50% a month.

According to a trove of intelligence documents reviewed by Reuters in 2017, Mr. Mnangagwa has been planning to revitalise the economy by bringing back thousands of white farmers kicked off their land nearly two decades ago and patching up relations with the likes of the World Bank and the IMF.

Whatever the outcome, analysts said the military would want to present their move as something other than a full-blown coup to avoid criticism from an Africa keen to leave behind the Cold War continental stereotype of generals being the final arbiters of political power.

“A military coup is the nuclear option,” said Alex Magaisa, a U.K.-based Zimbabwean academic. “A coup would be a very hard sell at home and in the international community. They will want to avoid that.”

 

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 8:41:40 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/army-seizes-control-in-zimbabwe-says-mugabe-safe/article20448577.ece

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