Military seizes power in Zimbabwe, but claims it's not a coup

15 November 2017

Zimbabwe's military has seized power but denied it is a coup, saying it was aimed at "criminals" around President Robert Mugabe (93), who is "safe and sound" in custody with his wife.

The army said it was securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets, after a night of unrest which included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.

The action triggered speculation of a coup, but the military's supporters praised it as a "bloodless correction".

Zimbabwe's largest daily newspaper, The Herald, in its first story since the military action, today said it "does not represent a military takeover".

Zimbabwean soldiers and armoured vehicles blocked roads to the main government offices, parliament and the courts in central Harare, a Reuters witness said today.

Apart from for longer queues for cash outside banks, it seemed business as usual, as public taxis ferried commuters to work.

''We are only targeting criminals around him (Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,'' Zimbabwe Major General S B Moyo, Chief of Staff Logistics, said on national television on today. ''As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.''

However, it was not clear if such ''normalcy'' would include the return of Mugabe as president.

The military detained finance minister Ignatius Chombo, reports said. Chombo was a leading member of the so-called 'G40' faction of the ruling ZANU-PF party, led by Mugabe's wife Grace, which had been vying to succeed Mugabe.

Soldiers deployed across the Zimbabwe capital Harare on Tuesday seized the state broadcaster after Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party accused the head of the military of treason, prompting frenzied speculation of a coup.

At least three explosions were heard in Harare early today and military vehicles were seen in the streets after the army commander threatened to "step in" to calm political tensions over Mugabe's possible successor.

The ruling party accused the commander of "treasonable conduct."

Soldiers overran the headquarters of the ZBC, Zimbabwe's state broadcaster and a principal Mugabe mouthpiece, and ordered staff to leave. Several ZBC workers were manhandled, two members of staff and a human rights activist said.

Shortly afterwards, three explosions rocked the centre of the southern African nation's capital, Reuters witnesses said.

The main opposition MDC party called for civilian rule to be protected. ''No one wants to see a coup ... if the army takes over that will be undesirable. It will bring democracy to a halt,'' party leader and shadow defence minister Gift Chimanikire told AFP on Tuesday.

'Grand Old Man' ousted
Mugabe, the self-styled 'Grand Old Man' of African politics, has led Zimbabwe for the last 37 years.

Robert Mugabe is the only leader Zimbabwe has had since it won freedom from British colonial rule in 1980. At 93, he is the world's oldest head of state. His poor health has fuelled a bitter succession battle as potential replacements jockey for position.

His lengthy rule has been marked by brutal repression of dissent, mass emigration, vote-rigging and economic collapse since land reforms in 2000.

In contrast to his elevated status in the country and on the continent, where he is seen as a protector of 'black' rights, Mugabe is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power destroyed Zimbabwe.

On 30 October 2017, Mugabe sacked long-time ally and vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, widely expected to succeed the former and take control of the ruling ZANU-PF party. Mugabe's move is seen as an attempt to install his wife Grace - 41 years younger than her husband - as vice-president to eventually take over the top job from him.

In 2016, the country was gripped by a bizarre spat between Grace and Mnangagwa that included an alleged ice-cream poisoning incident that laid bare the pair's rivalry. Grace has become increasingly active in public life.

She was granted diplomatic immunity in South Africa in August 2017 after she allegedly assaulted a model at an expensive Johannesburg hotel where the couple's two sons were staying.

Days after Mnangagwa fled the country after his dismissal, Army chief General Constantino Chiwenga on Monday warned Mugabe to ''stop'' purges of ZANU-PF.

''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,'' Gen Chiwenga told top military brass at Harare's King George VI military headquarters in an unprecedented intervention.

Though the action had all the hallmarks of a bloodless coup, the Zimbabwean military chose to avoid the word coup. Instead, it used state television to vow to target ''criminals'' close to Mugabe while assuring that ''the President … and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed''.

Grace'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 500,000,000,000 per cent.

Imported goods are running out and economists say that by some measures, inflation is now at 50 per cent a month.

According to a trove of intelligence documents reviewed by Reuters in 2017, 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 its 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.

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