In Brief

Zimbabwe army takes control – but denies coup

Military wades into showdown between rival factions vying to succeed Robert Mugabe

Despite official denials, a coup appears to be underway in Zimbabwe.

“The military has seized control,” reports the BBC, although an army spokesman “has said President Robert Mugabe, in power since 1980, is safe”.  

In a statement this morning, Major General Sibusiso Moyo said the army had taken action to “target criminals” after soldiers overran the national broadcaster ZBC last night. The move was not “a military takeover of government”, he added.

He said: “We wish to assure the nation that his Excellency the president... and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed.

“We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes... that are causing social and economic suffering in the country. As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”

Sign of trouble began yesterday afternoon, when tanks were seen advancing towards Harare. A witness told Reuters the armoured vehicles turned before reaching the centre of the city, but artillery fire was heard in the north of the city early this morning, near the homes of Mugabe and a number of government officials.

“Ministers loyal to President Mugabe and his wife Grace are reported to have been placed under house arrest,” says The Times. “Staff working for state newspapers were told by the military to return to work to prepare a special edition to be circulated around the country by lunchtime.” 

The South African cites reports that Mugabe has been under house arrest for the last few days – a claim denied by a Twitter account purporting to represent Zanu-PF, Mugabe’s ruling party. It is not clear whether the account, which insists there is “NO coup happening”, is authentic, the BBC reports.

Mugabe’s supporters have reacted badly to today’s events, says the Zimbabwe Mail, which describes the country as “on the brink”.

Speaking to the BBC, Kudzai Chipanga, the leader of the Zanu-PF youth wing, said his members would not allow the armed forces to subvert the constitution and were prepared to die to defend Mugabe. 

The British embassy in Harare is advising UK nationals to remain indoors until the situation becomes clearer.

Power struggle

Today’s military action appears to be a reaction to Mugabe’s decision last week to sack Zimbabwe’s deputy leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s liberation wars in the 1970s, “was popular with the military, which viewed his removal as part of a purge of independence-era figures to pave the way for Mugabe to hand power to his wife Grace”, says Reuters.

This prompted the head of the army, General Constantine Chiwenga, a supporter of Mnangagwa, and 90 other senior officers to demand an end to the purges within the ruling party.

The crisis is “a very public showdown” between the youth faction, loyal to Grace Mugabe, and veteran liberation fighters, who back Mnangagwa, Al Jazeera reports.

What will happen next?

While Mugabe has exerted almost total authority over Zimbabwe for decades, sacking his most senior long-time confidant “has laid bare the rivalries inside Zimbabwe’s political establishment” and could spark repercussions beyond his control, says the Daily Mail.

Mnangagwa, who has fled into exile but vows to return, has called for members of the ruling Zanu-PF party to desert the President, a direct challenge to Mugabe. A potential flashpoint could come next week, when his supporters plan to march against Mugabe in Harare.

Similarly, the future of the party could also be at risk if Mugabe’s wife, who has a large number of opponents within the party and government, is appointed vice-president and de facto heir at Zanu-PF’s annual congress next month, says the Mail.

However, other experts believe the turmoil “may actually allow Mugabe – the world's oldest national leader – to strengthen the extraordinary hold on power he has maintained since 1980”.

Neighbouring South Africa has called for “calm and restraint” in the country.

“Pretoria and the region in general are not unhappy with what is happening there,” says The Guardian. “Any transition that puts Mnangagwa in power will likely have the backing of neighbours, especially the biggest and richest ones.”

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