Mugabe’s out! Zimbabwe in turmoil after apparent military coup

Army Spokesman Major-General S.B. Moyo

PRETORIA, SOUTH AFRICA––Reports reaching Globe Afrique indicate a “white” bloodless military takeover is underway in Zimbabwe, a wealthy southern African nation made impoverished by Africa’s longest-serving ruthless dictator, Robert Mugabe.

The Mugabes have clashed with recently sacked Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa (second from right) and armed forces chief Gen Constantino Chiwenga.

Mugabe has been leading Zimbabwe for the past three and half decades since independence in 1980.  He managed to purge out all potential rivals and successors from both his government and the ruling ZANU-PF party he founded with others after the country’s revolution.

Dismissed and exiled Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, likely to take over as interim president should an agreement with the army is reached.

The 93–year–old dictator had been preparing the stage to have his 52–year old wife, Grace Mugabe, succeed him as president.  In the process, he has dismissed more than six different vice presidents over the years, including Simon Muzenda, Joice Mujuru, Joseph Msika, Phelekezela Mphoko, and the latest being Emmerson Mnangagwa.

The last vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, known as “The Crocodile” in Zimbabwe was sacked last week amid a disorder over leadership in the ruling Zanu-PF Part of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe. Like Mugabe, Mnangagwa is a veteran of the country’s liberation struggle against white domination but fled to South Africa last week after death threats.

As the ruling ZANU-PF infighting escalated, the chief of the country’s defense forces, General Constantino Chiwenga, issued a warning on Monday that the army would take “drastic action” if factions in Zanu-PF did not stop purging out party members with military backgrounds.  Immediately after the military chief warning, Zanu-PF issued a statement calling the general’s comments a treason.

Thereupon, the top brass of the military organized an impromptu secret meeting to discuss and analyze the political and economic situation in the country and its eventual impact on the country’s national security and stability.  In addition, some senior army officers contacted few foreign missions regarding the country’s political condition and assuring those missions of calm and stability should the military engage in any corrective action aimed at restoring freedoms and democratic order.

President Mugabe and his wife, Grace Mugabe during one of ZANU-PF celebrations.

Globe Afrique has learned that prior to the fracas in the ruling party, the dismissal of the vice president, and the tough warning of the chief of defense staff, negotiations had been ongoing for several months with “certain people” within the army regarding the way forward for the country and what role the military could play to restore law and order as well as a return to participatory democracy.  Confidential sources told Globe Afrique that consensus reached among the top military brass was that any military takeover should restore constitutional order by allowing the dismissed vice president to take over, or that the military should form a short-lived interim administration that would conduct free and fair multi-party election within months.

So far, things are fluid as to who will lead the country, as more discussions are said to be ongoing among the top military brass on the two options. Meanwhile, Globe Afrique received unconfirmed information that the country’s sacked and exiled former Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa has landed at the Manyame Airforce Base to take control of the government. Other sources say the military had sent for the dismissed former vice president to discuss a roadmap and derive consensus on governance issues.

According to the office of South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, President Mugabe is being held in Harare under house arrest but is said to be unharmed. While there is no independent confirmation, available information suggests that his 52-year old firebrand and powerful wife who has been vying to be the 93-year-old president’s successor fled Zimbabwe for Namibia on Tuesday night.

President Zuma later said he had spoken with the embattled President Mugabe by phone and that the veteran politician was confined to his home but feeling “fine.”

Eddie Cross, an MP from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said she was certain that Grace Mugabe had fled.  But other unconfirmed sources say that the 93-year-old President Mugabe, his wife Grace Mugabe, and other members of their close political circle are all under house arrest.

Meanwhile, the military has seized control of state television and airports, maintaining that it is acting against “criminals” surrounding the 93-year-old President Mugabe but that the president and his family were safe.

Armed soldier patrol a street in Harare, Zimbabwe.   Army says President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody.

Speaking to several news organizations, the military spokesperson Major General S.B. Moyo said the actions of the country’s defense forces were not a coup even dozens of soldiers, tanks, and armored vehicles are seen patrolling the streets in the capital Harare.

“We are only targeting criminals around [President Mugabe] who are… causing social and economic suffering,” Major-General Moyo told Zimbabwean on state TV. “As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy,” he added.

Major-General Moyo continued, “To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government,” he said.

“As soon as we accomplish our mission we expect the situation to return to normalcy.”

The military spokesman’s statement was followed by a statement from the Zimbabwe’s envoy to South Africa, Isaac Moyo, who explicitly said there was no coup as the government was “intact” with no “military takeover.”   Despite these assurances, Globe Afrique can confirm that the rule of Mugabe appears to have ended for good and that an announcement of a new government seems imminent.

Several leading opposition political figures in the country have confirmed to Globe Afrique that the military has been reaching out to them. One opposition figure said there was “a lot of talking going on,” with the army concerning discussions on the formation of a transitional government after Mugabe steps down, something the army seems to be pursuing with the aging leader currently under house arrest instead of having a full-blown military coup.

More Armed soldiers patrol a street in Harare.   In the wake of the military takeover in Zimbabwe, the national police force has recalled all officers on leave.

One official privy to the military operation and discussions said the top brass of the army revered the aging president and would like to see him step down amicably.  The official who opted to speak anonymously said President Mugabe would resign this week and perhaps be replaced by the dismissed vice president Mnangagwa who will form a new coalition government with opposition leaders taking posts as vice-president and prime minister.  While there is no independent confirmation of the official’s claim, many in Zimbabwe’s disjointed opposition has not condemned the military’s action outrightly.

Former Finance Minister Tendai Biti, one of the key opposition leaders, called for a “roadmap back to legitimacy.”

“What is key is that a traditional authority is set up which is inclusive of the opposition and the ruling party … We need a dialogue too with [regional organizations], the African Union and the United Nations. We can’t solve this problem on our own,” Biti added.

Like Biti, the deputy head of the opposition MDC party, Nelson Chamisa, called for “peace, constitutionalism, democratization; the rule of law and the sanctity of human life.”

There has been another political reaction as well at home and regional. South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma called on Zimbabwe’s Defense Forces to show restraint, adding that he hoped they “will not move and do more damage.”

“I am hoping that the situation is going to be controlled so peace and stability come back to Zimbabwe,” Zuma said.

Chris Mutsvanga, who leads the influential Zimbabwe War Veterans’ Association, and is a strong ally of the government prior to the military intervention, called the move a “bloodless coup.”

“We salute the patriotic and gallant forces of Zimbabwe for once again coming to the decisive rescue of the nation,” a statement issued by Mutsvanga read.

“The populace has long suffered under a self-saving dictatorship that had become an oligarchy with dynastic delusions,” Mutsvanga said.

Reliable sources say the veterans’ group has historically been loyal to Mugabe but Mutsvanga has been an ally of the sacked Vice President.  He and his group, have however been critical of Grace Mugabe, the president’s 52-year-old wife who does not have any connection to Zimbabwe’s campaign for independence.

As in most African nations that experienced military coups, political figures once loyal to President Mugabe in Zimbabwe are now beginning to turn away from him, leaving him isolated. Reliable sources say since Tuesday’s night military action unfolded, some officials of the government were being arrested and detained, others fled and some sided with the military.

The situation is tense with various checkpoints across the capital city, Harare. Soldiers have secured the Robert Mugabe International Airport, checking vehicles and IDs while others have surrounded the presidential palace and parliament, according to eyewitness accounts.

The implication for other long-term African rulers.

President Paul BIYA and President Teodoro OBIANG NGUEMA

International political and military analysts say the Zimbabwe’s experiment is just the beginning of a new wave of purging undemocratic dictators out of power on the African continent.

One political commentator said he would not be surprised if President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea and President Paul Biya of Cameroon were removed from power soon in a similar fashion by the military.

Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo (born 5 June 1942) is an Equatoguinean politician who has been President of Equatorial Guinea since 1979. He ousted his uncle, Francisco Macías Nguema, in an August 1979 military coup and has overseen Equatorial Guinea’s emergence as an important oil producer, beginning in the 1990s.

Paul Biya, a native of Cameroon’s south, rose rapidly as a bureaucrat under former President Ahmadou Ahidjo in the 1960s, serving as Secretary-General of the Presidency from 1968 to 1975 and then as Prime Minister of Cameroon from 1975 to 1982.  With President Ahidjo’s resignation in 1982, Biya assumed the leadership of Cameroon and set about replacing his predecessor’s northern allies with fellow southerners.

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Jacob Ujamaa Nyerere

Jacob Ujamaa Nyerere is a public affairs researcher and senior investigative correspondent.
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