Zimbabwe's military takes over country, says President Mugabe is 'safe'
Zimbabweâs military took control of the country on Nov. 15. This is what we know. (Amber Ferguson/The Washington Post) November 15 at 9:05 AM
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia â" Zimbabweâs military took control of the country and detained its longtime leader President Robert Mugabe early Wednesday, capping a political showdown over Mugabeâs apparent attempts to install his wife as successor.
A televised announcement after tanks and troops rolled into the capital, Harare, insisted it was ânot a military takeover.â
Despite the assurances, the events bore all the hallmarks of a coup, with military vehicles stationed around the city, the army taking over the television station and a uniformed general issuing a statement.
The move by army Gen. Constantino Chiwenga came as the struggle over who will succeed the countryâs increasingly frail 93-year-old leader came to a head. Mugabe has ruled since he led the country to independence from white minority rule in 1980.
Mugabe is one of the oldest and longest-ruling leaders to come out of Africaâs struggle against coÂloÂniÂalÂism and the emergence of new nations across the continent. His rule, however, has also become increasingly erratic and he is blamed by many for devastating the once-prosperous country.
âWe wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover,â said the statement read by Maj. Gen. Sibusiso Moyo. âWe are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country.â
The fate of Mugabe and his wife, 52-year-old Grace Mugabe, who increasingly looked set to succeed him, was unclear but they appear to be i n military custody.
âMugabe and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed,â said Moyo. Mugabeâs offices had a tank blocking the road in front of it and large numbers of soldiers milling around.
South African President Jacob Zuma, who is sending high level envoys to Harare, said he spoke to Mugabe and he is âfineâ â" albeit confined to his home.
[How Zimbabweâs Mugabe clung to power for nearly 40 years]
World leaders said they were monitoring the situation, with British Prime Minister Theresa May calling it âfluid.â Her foreign secretary, Boris Johnson added that ânobody wants simply to see the transition from one unelected tyrant to a next.â Zimbabwe is a former British colony.
The possible ouster of Mugabe would remove one of the fixtures of African affairs for nearly four decades as an unwavering critic of many Western policies and international institutions.
Mugabeâs supporters hail him for mo ves such as dismantling white-owned estates and other holdings. Yet he also was reviled as a despot who brutally crushed dissent and allowed the once-envied country to sink into a cycle of deepening poverty and stratospheric inflation.
Overnight, witnesses reported tanks and soldiers moving around the city along with sounds of gunfire and explosions. By morning, soldiers in armored vehicles controlled major intersections near government buildings.
In Harareâs central business district, local residents said all seemed normal with itinerant vendors taking advantage of the many closed businesses to sell their wares at intersections.
Police and plainclothes agents normally stationed around the parliament building could be seen sitting on the ground apparently under watch by armed soldiers. Local media reported that several members of the ZANU-PF ruling party have been detained by the military, including cabinet ministers.
Political analyst Mike Mavura said it was important for the military to say this was not a coup for reasons of international legitimacy.
[Watch: Model claims assault by Grace Mugabe]
âWe are not in the 1960s and 1970s anymore, when coups in Africa were left, right and center â" I think they are trying very hard to appear progressive,â he told The Washington Post. âHowever, of interest to democracy, the elections scheduled for next year, will they take place?â
Zimbabweâs political crisis reached a boiling point last week with the dismissal of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, clearing the way for Mugabeâs wife, also a vice president, to succeed him.
Mugabe told supporters he had dismissed Mnangagwa for disloyalty and disrespect, as well as using witchcraft to take power.
The move exacerbated divisions in the ruling ZANU-PF party, where the youth faction is firmly on Graceâs side, while the older veterans of the struggle against white rule look to Mnangagwa.
A t one point last month, Grace Mugabe even warned that supporters of Mnangagwa were planning their own coup.
Mnangagwa, who fled to neighboring South Africa, has strong support with the military and on Monday army head Chiwenga threatened to âstep inâ to stop the purge of Mnangagwaâs supporters.
The military was once a key pillar of Mugabeâs rule.
The partyâs website reported that Mnangagwa was back in the country and would be taking over leadership of the party.
[Booing Mugabeâs wife can bring arrest in Zimbabwe]
Political commentator Maxwell Saungweme said by phone that the military will probably try to pressure Mugabe to step down in favor of Mnangagwa as acting president.
âBut this plan may not pan out as Mugabe might resist this. So the whole thing may be messy,â he warned.
Once a wealthy breadbasket for the whole region, Zimbabweâs economy and especially the prosperous agriculture sector has suffered in recen t years. The currency has collapsed and at one point the country was experiencing devastating hyperinflation with denominations of the Zimbabwe dollar counted in the trillions.
Mugabeâs rule has been blamed by critics for the economic decline and the aging leader was seen as being increasingly under the influence of his wife, who was also known as âGucci Graceâ for the rumored extravagance of her foreign shopping trips.
In recent weeks there has been an increased sensitivity to criticism with four people detained for booing Grace Mugabe at a rally and an American woman arrested for allegedly making insulting tweets about Mugabe.
Grace Mugabe was also sought by South African authorities in August after a local model accused her of assault and battery.
Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report.
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