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[WATCH] Zimbabwe: military seizes capital to 'target criminals'

The capital of Harare has temporarily been seized by military, with the aim of targeting criminals around president Mugabe

15 November 2017, 8:28am
Gen Constantine Chiwenga, the head of Zimbabwe’s military, called a press conference to warn that troops could intervene if long-term political allies continued to suffer.
Gen Constantine Chiwenga, the head of Zimbabwe’s military, called a press conference to warn that troops could intervene if long-term political allies continued to suffer.
Robert Mugabe remains in detention at his home in Zimbabwe more than 12 hours after the military declared on national television that it had temporarily taken control of the country to “target criminals” around the head of state.

The military in Zimbabwe has temporarily taken control of the country to “target criminals” around President Robert Mugabe, amid reports of explosions in the capital of Harare .

Since, soldiers have sealed access to parliament, government offices and courts in Harare, according to residents. Access to the president’s official residence was also blocked by troops.

A military spokesman, Maj Gen SB Moyo made an announcement on state television early on Wednesday, saying that Mugabe and his family were “safe and sound and their security is guaranteed”.

Moyo said the army was targeting “criminals around” Mugabe, who were “committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in order to bring them to justice”.

 

The takeover comes to light after a battle over who will succeed Mugabe, 93.

The veteran vice president and former spy chief Emerson Mnangagwa, who has strong support among many in Zimbabwe’s armed forces, was unceremoniously fired last week.

Insisting this was not a military takeover, Moyo said “as soon as [the armed forces] are done the situation will come to normalcy”.

Moyo said the army took action because the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation was ordered not to broadcast a statement from the military on Monday and “the situation in our country has moved to another level”.

He urged the security forces to “cooperate for the good of our country”. He warned “any provocation will be met with an appropriate response”.

Following the speech, Zimbabwe’s finance minister Ignatius Chombo was detained by the military.

Chombo was a leading member of the ‘G40’ faction of the ruling Zanu-PF party, led by Grace Mugabe.

There were also reports of a number of explosions and incidents of armed forces harassing people during the night.

A witness told Agence France-Presse that gunfire had erupted near Mugabe’s private residence in the suburb of Borrowdale early on Wednesday, but there was no independent confirmation of the report.

The US embassy in the capital tweeted out a message citing “ongoing uncertainty.” A statement later posted by the embassy told US citizens in Zimbabwe to “shelter in place until further notice”.

The British embassy said that due to the “uncertain political situation” British nationals should remain at home.

Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabwe has known for 37 years of independence, spent Tuesday afternoon in a cabinet meeting, but his whereabouts overnight were unknown.

In the statement, the military said that they continued to recognise the president as commander in chief of the armed forces.

However, Mugabe’s firing of Mnangagwa, nicknamed the “Crocodile”, came as somewhat of a shock, as he had a strong support base among veterans, as well as within the security establishment he once ran.

He was considered to be the mostly likely candidate to succeed Mugabe if the president decided to step down or died in office.

 Mnangagwa’s downfall and flight into exile was widely seen as paving the way for his arch rival, Grace Mugabe, to take power instead.

Mugabe’s shock move caused widespread discontent among Mnangagwa’s supporters and exposed deep divides within Zanu-PF ranks.

On Monday, Gen Constantine Chiwenga, the head of Zimbabwe’s military, called a press conference to warn that troops could intervene if long-term political allies continued to suffer.

“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,” Chiwenga said, in a statement read to reporters at a news conference packed with 90 senior officers from across key units in a show of military unity.

The statement was initially carried on state media, then entirely wiped from the airwaves, but the government was slow to respond, with no word from Mugabe himself.

After a weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday however, a statement was issued by Simon Khaya-Moyo, the government spokesman and national secretary for information and publicity, accusing Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct”.

“Such conduct stands unreservedly condemned not only in the party ... but also in the [region] and the entire African continent where subversion of constitutional authority is ... regarded as absolute anathema,” the statement read.

Mugabe’s authoritarian rule has been anchored by support from the military but the ageing leader has systematically dismissed veterans of the liberation struggle from party posts in recent years leaving the top echelons of Zanu-PF stacked with officials who did not fight in the independence war.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace attending a rally (Photo: the Star)
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace attending a rally (Photo: the Star)
The Head of the war veterans’ group, Chris Mutsvangwa, told reporters in Johannesburg last week that Grace Mugabe, the president’s wife, was “a mad woman” who had won power through a “coup ... by marriage certificate”.

Mutsvangwa issued a statement on Wednesday praising the military for carrying out “a bloodless correction of gross abuse of power.”

The statement said the army will return Zimbabwe to “genuine democracy.”

The first lady’s reputation was tarnished by an alleged assault against a model she had found in the company of her sons in a luxury apartment in Johannesburg in September and has since lost popularity amongst the public.

She was granted diplomatic immunity and was allowed to leave South Africa, despite a police inquiry.

Reports of extravagant purchases, including property in South Africa have also angered many Zimbabweans. Pictures of one of the first lady’s sons apparently pouring a bottle of champagne over a luxury watch worth thousands of dollars were also shared on social media this week.

 

This crisis comes at a time when Zimbabwe is facing severe economic problems. Struggling to pay for imports, due to a shortage of funds has resulted in acute cash shortages for the country.