The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation was this morning playing patriotic anthems from the time of the war against white rule, the struggle – “Chimurenga” – from which Robert Mugabe, originally guerrilla leader, emerged to become leader of his nation. The music was interrupted from time to time to broadcast a statement saying that the military was in charge and President Mugabe was safe.
The real news, emerging slowly, was of the apparent removal of one of Africa’s longest serving heads of state and a figure of huge controversy in a coup, as well as the fortunes of the man known as “the Crocodile” and the woman regarded by her many enemies as the country’s Lady Macbeth – former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the President’s wife Grace.
Mnangagwa, who was also the intelligence chief, was sacked by Mugabe last week at the behest, it is widely believed, of his wife Grace, 41 years younger than her 93-year-old husband, who had declared that the “Crocodile” has turned into “a snake which must be hit on the head”. After receiving death threats, Mnangagwa fled to South Africa. Grace Mugabe was expected to be appointed his successor next month.
The announcement of the military takeover came from General Sibusiso Moyo, an aide to defence chief General Constantino Chiwenga, who is believed to have been in contact with Mnangagwa and who had declared 24 hours earlier that his forces were prepared to step in to end the purges within the ruling Zanu-PF party which had seen the departure of the Vice President.
A Twitter account purporting to belong to the party (although there is now some confusion about whether or not it is in fact a parody account) said this morning that it will “present the views of Comrade Mnangagwa and will report to EM, henceforth consider this official, it is not controlled by a faction”. It later announced that Mnangagwa has been appointed interim president and there were further, unconfirmed, reports that President Mugabe was prepared to step down.
There has been no immediate news about the whereabouts of Grace Mugabe, but it is believed that she is being held alongside her husband. Among those reported to be arrested were Kudzai Chipanga, president of the Zanu-PF Youth League, who were fervent supporters of the President’s wife. Chipanga had declared that party’s young members would “fight and die” if the army attempted to seize power.
There have, so far, been no reports of outbreaks of violence. There are armoured cars on the streets of Harare, and troops are positioned outside parliament, the high court and the state broadcasters. People have been stopped and searched at checkpoints, but there are no suggestions, as yet, that arbitrary arrests are taking place.
What happens now? Grace Mugabe – nicknamed “Gucci Grace” by critics due to her lavish spending – and her husband have faced allegations of corruption and the President has faced repeated accusations, over his years in power, of human rights abuses.
Maj Gen Moyo said this morning of the pair: “Their security is guaranteed … We are only targeting criminals around [Mugabe] who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice. As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”
Maj Gen Moyo also insisted: “This is not a military takeover”, having previously stated that “the military are in charge”. Right now this is a matter of semantics; the military are the ones who are in control of the state apparatus. But they may well be content to see Mnangagwa installed as acting President for the time being, with the President forced to anoint him successor at the party congress next month.
Robert and Grace Mugabe are both subject to sanctions by some countries, including a travel ban, but a way could be found for them to go into exile – perhaps to South Africa, the country which has predominant influence over Zimbabwe.
The alternative will be bringing them to trial with the risk of political and tribal divisions spilling into violence. “Chimurenga” was a word much in use among soldiers on the street of Harare today, but it remains unclear what the outcome of this particular struggle is going to be.
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