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Zimbabwe military says seizes power to stop 'criminals', President Mugabe safe

By MacDonald Dzirutwe
Reuters

November 15. 2017 1:33AM
Soldiers stand beside military vehicles just outside Harare, Zimbabwe, on Tuesday. (REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo)



HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s military said it had seized power in a targeted assault on “criminals” around President Robert Mugabe who were causing social and economic suffering, but gave assurances the 93-year-old leader and his family were “safe and sound.”

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

While nearby, Zimbabweans queued for cash outside banks 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 SB Moyo, Chief of Staff Logistics, said on national television on Wednesday.

“As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”

The military detained Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo on Wednesday, a government source said. 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 Mugabe.

Soldiers deployed across the Zimbabwe capital Harare on Tuesday and 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.

Just 24 hours after military chief General Constantino Chiwenga threatened to intervene to end a purge of his allies in Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, a Reuters reporter saw armored personnel carriers on main roads around the capital.

Aggressive soldiers told passing cars to keep moving through the darkness. “Don’t try anything funny. Just go,” one barked at Reuters on Harare Drive.

Two hours later, 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 center of the southern African nation’s capital, Reuters witnesses said.

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

In contrast to his elevated status on the continent, 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 one of Africa’s most promising states.

The United States and Britain advised their citizens in Harare to stay indoors because of “political uncertainty.”

“U.S. citizens in Zimbabwe are encouraged to shelter in place until further notice,” the U.S. statement said. The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office statement told “nationals currently in Harare to remain safely at home or in their accommodation until the situation becomes clearer.”

The Southern African nation has been on edge since Monday when Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, said he was prepared to “step in” to end a purge of supporters of sacked vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Only a few months ago, Mnangagwa, a former security chief nicknamed “The Crocodile,” was favorite to succeed his life-long political patron but was ousted a week ago to pave the way for Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace to succeed him.

President Robert Mugabe aboard a truck as he is welcomed by Commander Of Defence Forces General Costatino Chiwenga to inspect a guard of honor during the Defense Forces commemorations at National Sports Stadium on Aug. 15 in Harare, Zimbabwe. (Xinhua/Sipa USA/TNS)

’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 percent a month.

According to a trove of intelligence documents reviewed by Reuters this year, Mnangagwa has been planning to revitalize 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.”

Zimbabwe Defence Forces Major-General SB Moyo makes an announcement on state broadcaster ZBC, in this still image taken from a video early Wednesday. (ZBC/Handout via REUTERS)

Zimbabwe military’s statement after seizing power

Following is the text of an address made by Zimbabwe Major General SB Moyo, Chief of Staff Logistics, on national television after the military seized power:

“Following the address we made on November 13, 2017, which we believe our main broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and The Herald were directed not to publicize, the situation in our country has moved to another level. Firstly, we wish to assure the nation that His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, and commander-in-chief of Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Comrade RG Mugabe, 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 in order to bring them to justice.

“As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy. To the civil servants, as you are aware, there is a plan by the same individuals to influence the current purging that is taking place in the political sphere to the civil service. We are against that act of injustice and we intend to protect every one of you against that.

“To the judiciary, the measures underway are intended to assure that as an independent arm of the state you are able to exercise your independent authority without fear of being obstructed as has been the case with this group of individuals.

“To our members of parliament, your legislative role is of paramount importance for peace and stability in this country and it is our desire that a dispensation is created that allows you to serve your respective political constituencies according to democratic tenets.

“To the generality of the people of Zimbabwe we urge you to remain calm and limit unnecessary movement. However, we encourage those who are employed and those with essential business in the city to continue their normal activities usual. Our wish is that you enjoy your rights and freedoms and that we return our country to a dispensation that allows for investment, development and prosperity that we all fought for and for which many of our citizens paid the supreme sacrifice.

“To political parties we urge you to discourage your members from engaging in violent behavior.

“To the youth we call upon you to realize that the future of this country is yours. Do not be enticed with dirty coins of silver. Be disciplined and remain committed to the ethos and values of this great nation.

“To all churches and religious organizations in Zimbabwe we call upon you and your congregations to pray for our country and preach the gospel of love, peace, unity and development.

“To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government. What the Zimbabwe Defence Forces is actually doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in a violent conflict.

“We call upon all the war veterans to play positive in ensuring peace, stability and unity in the country.

“To members of the defense forces, all leave is canceled and you all to return to your barracks with immediate effect.

“To our respected traditional leaders, you are our custodians of our culture, customs, traditions and heritage and we request you to provide leadership and direction to your communities for the sake of unity and development in our country.

“To the other Security Services: We urge you to cooperate for the good of our country. Let it be clear that we intend to address the human security threats in our country. Therefore any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.

“To the media; we urge you report fairly and responsibly.

“Thank you”