There’s uncertainty around the political situation in Zimbabwe with the army denying reports of a coup while confirming its pursuing what it calls criminals around President Robert Mugabe.
Speculation about Harare’s fate was prompted by images of armoured vehicles driving towards the capital on Tuesday amid tensions within the ruling Zanu-PF.
An army spokesperson on Wednesday morning addressed Zimbabweans on state television confirming that Mugabe is safe and the government remains intact.
The spokesperson says the situation will return to normal once their mission is accomplished and has appealed for restraint from citizens.
“Political parties, we urge you to discourage your members from engaging in violent behaviour. To youth, we call upon you to realise that the future of this country is yours. Do not be enticed with dirty coins of silver. Be disciplined.”
Zimbabwe Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo is among those detained by the army, according to a government source.
Chombo was a leading member of the so-called ‘G40’ faction of the ruling Zanu-PF party, led by Mugabe’s wife Grace, that had been vying to succeed the 93-year-old president.
Zanu-PF’s youth wing said on Tuesday that it is ready to die for Mugabe after threats by the military to intervene if the president and his allies don’t stop their purge of military veterans from the party and government.
Just last week, Mugabe sacked Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa for showing traits of disloyalty in a move many believe is meant to bolster first lady Grace Mugabe’s ambitions to succeed her husband.
“POLITICS OVER THE GUN”
Chiwenga’s unprecedented statement represented a major escalation of the struggle to succeed Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabwe has known since it gained independence from Britain in 1980.
Mugabe chaired a weekly cabinet meeting in the capital on Tuesday, officials said, and afterwards Zanu-PF said it stood by the “primacy of politics over the gun” and accused Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct … meant to incite insurrection.”
The previous day, Chiwenga had made clear the army’s refusal to accept the removal of Mnangagwa – like the generals a veteran of Zimbabwe’s anti-colonial liberation war – and the presumed accession of 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 Mugabe nor Grace have responded in public to Chiwenga’s remarks and 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 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.
Grace Mugabe’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 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 billion percent.
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 this year, 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 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 UK-based Zimbabwean academic. “A coup would be a very hard sell at home and in the international community. They will want to avoid that.”