Zimbabwe: Mugabe remains in military custody amid political turmoil, arrests
In Zimbabwe, the country’s ruling Zanu PF party denied there is any coup in progress, and a local media outlet said President Robert Mugabe is in command of military forces that descended on the capital city of Harare on Tuesday.
Yet by 4 a.m. Wednesday, amid confusing reports of explosions rocking the city and a takeover of Zimbabwe’s state broadcasting headquarters, the military was on the air to announce it was taking control in order to target “criminals” surrounding Mugabe and to alleviate the suffering of the nation. The message from Major General Moyo clarified that the Mugabe family was safe and the military was not taking over the nation per se.
Mugabe remained in military custody, while some sources said his wife, Grace Mugabe, was in Namibia. Officials in Windhoek did not confirm her travels but said they were concerned about developments in Zimbabwe and aligned with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on the matter.
“Namibia and Zimbabwe share a common destiny and common aspirations for peace, economic prosperity and democracy for our countries and people,” said international affairs minister Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah. “Namibia is concerned that the present situation in Zimbabwe creates uncertainty that is not conducive to peace, stability and consolidation of democracy in Zimbabwe and the region as a whole.”
In what appeared to be the first of the military’s decisions, Reuters reported that Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo was detained a few hours later. African affairs analyst Jeffrey Smith, the executive director of Vanguard Africa, noted that Zimbabwe’s G40 politicians such as Chombo were likely to be targets. These Zanu PF politicians have played a prominent role in party decisions on who will ultimately replace the aging Mugabe.
The rapid developments followed a warning for Mugabe from General Constantino Chiwenga, who demanded the president stop removing members of his own Zanu PF party or face a mobilized military. Chiwenga’s statement followed last week’s ousting of Zimbabwe Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, a move widely interpreted as paving the way for Mugabe’s wife, Grace, to succeed the 93-year-old president. Zanu PF leaders responded by accusing Chiwenga of treasonous actions and “purporting to speak on behalf of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces.”
The party said Chiwenga’s statement was “an outrageous vitiation of professional soldiership and his war time record as a high-ranking freedom fighter” that suggested “treasonable conduct” meant to incite insurrection and violent challenge. Zanu PF warned that it would not succumb to threats, even as its youth members broadcast a warning that they would fight to the death to defend Mugabe.
The city remained on edge as Zimbabwe’s political crisis continued to escalate. Evan Mawarire, the frequently arrested pastor who spearheaded Zimbabwe’s #thisflag movement, said the nation “is in a dangerous place” and appealed for citizens to stand together and defend their constitution.
Earlier on Tuesday, Zimbabwe National Army (ZNA) vehicles were seen rolling into the city, with no clear communication on the reason for their presence. There were no immediate reports of violent clashes or arrests, although witnesses in Harare reported gunfire not far from the statehouse shortly after 3 a.m. Wednesday. They also took to social media to report that Chiwenga’s earlier statement was being broadcast on radio.
The military leader’s address appeared to support Zanu PF but not the instability within it, nor the economic hardships and other consequences for Zimbabweans in recent years.
“It is our strong and deeply considered position that if drastic action is not taken immediately, our beloved country Zimbabwe is definitely headed to becoming a neo-colony again,” said Chiwenga, who is aligned with Mnangagwa. “The current purging and cleansing progress in Zanu PF which so far is targeting mostly members associated with our liberation history is a serious cause for concern to us in the Defence Forces.”
Chiwenga went on to say that “when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in.” He cited a passage of Zimbabwe’s constitution that mandates its defense forces to protect the nation, its people, its national security and interests.
As that military action became obvious, the U.S. Embassy issued a warning during the early morning hours Wednesday because of “ongoing uncertainty in Zimbabwe,” and said the minimally staffed Harare offices were closed to the public.
“Embassy personnel will continue to monitor the situation closely,” the embassy message said.
The UK also issued a warning to its citizens. “Due to the uncertain situation in Harare, including reports of unusual military activity, we advise British nationals in the city to stay safely at home/indoors until the situation becomes clearer,” the embassy social media message said.
Elsewhere, progressive activists with the independent Magamba Network said their offices were raided by police who confiscated computers and equipment at the Moto Republik hub.
Magamba Network is the same media outlet at the Harare artist collective where American Martha O’Donovan works. She was released on bail last week following an arrest for insulting Mugabe that received international attention. Samm Farai Monro, a spokesman for Magamba, said following Tuesday’s raid that the organization was accused of subverting the constitutional government.
To view Chiwenga’s complete statement, see this NewsDay link.