Zimbabwe army seizes power and holds MugabeHeat Profit
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Zimbabwe’s army seized control of the country on Wednesday, saying it was removing “criminals” around Robert Mugabe and holding the president for his own safety.
An army spokesman said on state television that Mr Mugabe and his family were being held in a “safe and secure place” while soldiers carried out the operation in Harare, which followed a day of high tension between the army’s commander, General Constantino Chiwenga, and Mr Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF.
“We are targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country,” the army spokesman said. “As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”
Witnesses in Harare said soldiers remained on guard outside the state TV building on Wednesday morning, and were manning a checkpoint at the airport where flights were running normally. Army vehicles blocked off a handful of streets in the city centre. State television and radio played music as normal broadcasting was suspended.
South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma spoke to Mr Mugabe, 93, on Wednesday, who “indicated that he was confined to his home, but said that he was fine”, the South African presidency said in a statement.
The military action came a week after Mr Mugabe sacked his vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s liberation fight, in a move that appeared to put Grace Mugabe on course to succeed her husband. Mr Mnangagwa, an ally of Gen Chiwenga, had fled to South Africa and said he would challenge Mr Mugabe’s rule, whom he claimed was using the ruling Zanu-PF party as his “personal property”.
In a rare press conference on Monday, Gen Chiwenga had said the military would not “hesitate to step in” to “protect the revolution”. Many interpreted his statement as a warning against Mr Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African nation since independence from Britain in 1980.
In the early hours of Wednesday, soldiers arrested Ignatius Chombo, the finance minister who was part of the Zanu-PF faction loyal to Mrs Mugabe, people familiar with developments in Harare said.
Kudzai Chipanga, the head of Zanu-PF’s youth league who had issued a statement attacking Gen Chiwenga on Tuesday, was also detained, the people said.
Military officers and veterans of the liberation war had become increasingly concerned about the rise of Mrs Mugabe in the Zanu-PF during the past three years. A former secretary to the president who is 40 years younger than her husband, Mrs Mugabe has been at the centre of toxic succession battle in Zanu-PF that escalated as the president’s health deteriorated.
Dubbed “Gucci Grace” because of her penchant for shopping, many believed the flamboyant first lady wielded growing influence over Mr Mugabe as he became frail, marginalising party veterans.
Her main rival in the succession race had been Mr Mnangagwa, a former security chief who is backed by veterans of the liberation war and is nicknamed “the crocodile”.
Political analysts expect the military to re-appoint him as vice-president with effective control over the government
Lloyd Msipa, an analyst at the Africa Public Policy Research Institute, said Gen Chiwenga did not want to move against Mr Mugabe himself, largely because of their history together in the liberation struggle.
Instead, he was portraying his actions as moving against the “criminals” around the president who have been siphoning off the country’s wealth. “They are saying to Mr Mugabe, ‘We are actually protecting you from yourself. These youngsters with their super fast brains and their technology are getting you to sign all these documents,’” said Mr Msipa.
Mr Msipa, who knows Mr Mnangagwa personally, said the former vice-president was preparing to fly into Manyame Air Base, a military base in Harare.
“This is the man they need for the transition from Mugabe to something else,” he said.
Mr Mugabe has been Zanu-PF’s dominant figure for decades and had said that he would lead the party into presidential elections next year. But analysts say the ruling party may now use a party conference scheduled for next month to formally elect a new leader.
Witnesses reported hearing explosions in the northern suburbs of Harare overnight, the but the only signs of the coup were road blocks on streets that were abnormally quiet.
“The US government encourages all Zimbabweans to approach disputes calmly and peacefully while following democratic, transparent, and constitutional processes for resolving differences,” a state department spokesperson said.
The UK Foreign Office said British nationals should “remain safely at home or in their accommodation until the situation becomes clearer.”
Robert Mugabe’s 37 years in power
1980 Robert Mugabe celebrates overwhelming victory in independence elections with a magnanimous speech soothing country’s white minority and Britain, its former colonial power
1982 The president ruthlessly suppresses opposition to his rule in the province of Matabeleland
Late 1990s Mr Mugabe presides over the often violent seizure of 4,500 white-owned farms, a campaign that intensifies over the next decade, accelerating decline in the country’s white population
2002 Mr Mugabe wins a presidential election marred by violence. Repression and economic disintegration gather speed, bringing EU sanctions and Zimbabwe’s suspension and subsequent withdrawal from the Commonwealth
2008 Mr Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party loses parliamentary elections to the Movement for Democratic Change, led by former trade unionist Morgan Tsvangirai but Mr Mugabe wins a run-off after Mr Tsvangirai pulls out in protest at violence
2009 Regional mediators convince Mr Tsvangirai’s opposition to join Zanu-PF in a unity government, with Mr Mugabe retaining the presidency. Government introduces the US dollar as main currency to counter hyperinflation
2013 Mr Mugabe, at the age of 89, wins another five-year term as president, with an overwhelming victory over Mr Tsvangirai. The UK, US and EU raise serious concerns over poll’s credibility
2014 Grace Mugabe, Mr Mugabe’s second wife, is elevated to a senior position in Zanu-PF despite no previous role in the party as the president reinforces his grip on power
Nov 6 2017 Mr Mugabe sacks vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, clearing the way for his wife to take the post
Nov 13 After Mr Mnangagwa’s removal, Zimbabwe’s top general warns that the military will not hesitate to step in to end purges against former liberation war fighters
Additional reporting by Katrina Manson in Washington