Witnesses report soldiers and armoured vehicles approaching Harare, leading many to believe coup is underway amid unprecedented challenge to Mugabe.
According to The Guardian, Tensions rose in Harare on Tuesday as armoured vehicles, military police and soldiers from Zimbabwe’s powerful military drove through the outskirts of the capital, a day after the head of the armed forces said he was prepared to “step in”to end a purge of supporters of sacked vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Witnesses in the city reported several lorries full of military personnel and at least six armoured vehicles on roads approaching the city in the late afternoon, though residents said there was no sign of troops in the centre of Harare, the airport, government broadcasters or the residence of president Robert Mugabe.
A second column of around a dozen vehicles was reported moving down the same road several hours later.
The deployments of military vehicles and soldiers led many to believe a coup was underway against Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabwe has known in 37 years of independence.
It is still unclear who ordered the military movement, though it comes amid an unprecedented challenge to the 93-year-old president from the armed forces.
Zimbabwe was plunged into crisis last week when Mugabe sacked Mnangagwa, a 75-year-old veteran of Zimbabwe’s liberation wars.
The former intelligence chief and long-time associate of the president had been viewed as his most likely successor, and is thought to have significant support within Zimbabwe’s security establishment.
Mnangagwa’s downfall opens the way for his arch rival, Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace, to take power when the ailing president dies, resigns or is ousted.
Mnangagwa was dismissed and humiliated a week earlier after clashing with President Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace, who is now in prime position to succeed her 93-year-old husband.
Analysts had warned that the sacking would spark repercussions beyond Robert Mugabe’s control.
But the 75-year-old former vice-president has powerful military connections, having served as defence and state security minister.
Soon after his dismissal Mnangagwa fled into exile, vowing to return. He launched a direct challenge to Mugabe by calling for members of the ruling party to desert the president.
Mnangagwa – whose nickname is the Crocodile – defiantly told Mugabe that the party was “not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please”. Mugabe reacted by expelling his longtime confidante and former liberation war guerrilla from the party.
Gen Constantine Chiwenga, the head of Zimbabwe’s military, warned on Monday that troops would intervene if long-term political allies continued to suffer. Claiming that Zanu-PF had been infiltrated by people who were seeking to destroy it from within. “Known counter-revolutionaries … must be exposed and fished out,”
“The current purging, which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background, must stop 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”,
“Members must go with equal opportunity to exercise their democratic rights”,
The army boss added that the infighting in the party was damaging the country, which is gripped by an economic crisis:
“There is distress, trepidation and despondence within the nation”,
“As a result of the squabbling, there has been no meaningful development in the country for the past five years”.
However, late on Tuesday night a statement was issued by Simon Khaya-Moyo, the national secretary for information and publicity, accusing Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct”.
“Such conduct stands unreservedly condemned not only in the party … but also in the [region] and the entire African continent where subversion of constitutional authority is … regarded as absolute anathema,” the statement read.
Chris Mutsvangwa, the head of the war veterans’ group, told reporters in Johannesburg last week that Grace Mugabe was “a mad woman” who had won power through a “coup … by marriage certificate”.
The crisis comes at a time when Zimbabwe faces severe economic problems. The country is struggling to pay for imports due to a shortage of dollars, which has also caused acute cash shortages.
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Jean Baptiste Karegeya
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