Zimbabwe army has Mugabe and wife in custody, controls capital

Zimbabwe’s army said Wednesday it has President Robert Mugabe and his wife in custody, and is securing government offices and patrolling the capital’s streets following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.

The night’s action triggered speculation of a coup, but the military’s supporters praised it as a “bloodless correction.”

South Africa’s president says he has spoken with Mugabe and that the 93-year-old leader is confined to his home but is “fine,” although the military hasn’t confirmed where Mugabe and his wife are being held.

A statement by President Jacob Zuma’s office says he’s sending South Africa’s ministers of defence and state security to Zimbabwe to meet with Mugabe and the military there, and is calling for calm.

Zimbabwe Political Turmoil

Maj.-Gen. S.B. Moyo, spokesperson for the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, said early Wednesday the military is targeting “criminals” around President Robert Mugabe, and sought to reassure the country that order will be restored. (ZBC via Associated Press)

It’s the first time this southern African nation’s military is opposing Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state and one of the longest-serving authoritarian rulers. Mugabe has been in power since Zimbabwe’s independence from white minority rule in 1980.

Armed soldiers in armoured personnel carriers stationed themselves at key points in Harare, while Zimbabweans formed long lines at banks in order to draw the limited cash available, a routine chore in the country’s ongoing financial crisis. People looked at their phones to read about the army takeover and others went to work or to shops.

Zimbabwe Political Turmoil

Zimbabweans queue outside a bank to withdraw cash as armed soldiers patrol the streets in Harare on Wednesday. (Associated Press)

Mugabe’s security ‘guaranteed’

In an address to the nation after taking control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, Maj.-Gen. Sibusiso Moyo said early Wednesday the military is targeting “criminals” around Mugabe, and sought to reassure the country that order will be restored.

Without saying where Mugabe and his wife are being held, Moyo said, “Their security is guaranteed.”

Zimbabwe Turmoil Images

A military tank is seen with armed soldiers on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe’s office in Harare. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press)

“We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover,” he said. “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.”

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

He called on churches to pray for the nation. He urged other security forces to “co-operate for the good of our country,” warning that “any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.”

In the clip below, the CBC’s Margaret Evans, who spent time reporting in Zimbabwe earlier this year, spoke to The National‘s Andrew Chang about the implications of a potential coup.

The CBC’s Margaret Evans explains how events in Zimbabwe may unfold2:15

The events have unfolded in the wake of Mugabe’s controversial firing of Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who had previously been seen as a likely successor, removing an obstacle to the presidential ambitions of Mugabe’s wife.

War veterans praise army

All troops were ordered to return to barracks immediately, with all leave cancelled, said Moyo. The broadcast was sent out from the ZBC headquarters in Pocket’s Hill near Harare’s Borrowdale suburb.

Overnight, at least three explosions were heard in the capital of Harare, and military vehicles were seen in the streets.

ZIMBABWE-POLITICS/

Secretary General of Zimbabwe’s War Veterans Association, Victor Matemadanda, addresses a news conference in Harare Wednesday. He said veterans stand with the army and that Mugabe should be recalled as president and ruling party leader. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

The military actions appear to put the army in control of the country.

Army Cmdr. Constantino Chiwenga had threatened on Monday to “step in” to calm political tensions. Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party responded by accusing the general of “treasonable conduct.” But now Chiwenga appears to be in control.

The army has been praised by the nation’s war veterans for carrying out “a bloodless correction of gross abuse of power.” The military will return Zimbabwe to “genuine democracy” and make the country a “modern model nation,” Chris Mutsvangwa, chairman of the influential war veterans’ association, told The Associated Press in Johannesburg.

That organization’s secretary general, Victor Matemadanda, says the veterans stand with the army and Mugabe should be recalled as president and ruling party leader.

Matemadanda told reporters in Harare that the country has been sliding into a “state of chaos.”

He said the ruling party should establish a commission of inquiry into Mugabe and why he decided to let his wife insult veterans and the Armed Forces.

Tendai Biti, a former Zimbabwe finance minister and current activist, said of Mugabe: “The old man should be allowed to rest.”

Biti told South African broadcaster eNCA that Mugabe is a “very intelligent man who must know the die is cast.”

Canadians told to stay indoors

Mnangagwa fled Zimbabwe last week after being fired from his post as vice-president, but said he would return to lead the country.

Canada, the United States and Britain advised their citizens in Harare to stay indoors.

Canada’s embassy was closed for the day Wednesday “for security reasons.”

From 1 ‘unelected tyrant’ to the next?

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the U.K. is monitoring the situation in Zimbabwe.

Johnson said Britain has always wanted Zimbabwe’s citizens to be masters of their own fate, and that the country has fantastic potential under the right political system.

Robert Mugabe’s push for independence5:22

“It’s very fluid and it’s hard to say exactly how this will turn out,” said Johnson, adding it’s not yet clear whether these events will mark the downfall of Mugabe. “The most important point to make is that everybody wants to see a stable and successful Zimbabwe and I think we are really appealing for everybody to refrain from violence.” 

“Nobody wants simply to see the transition from one unelected tyrant to a next. No one wants to see that. We want to see proper, free and fair elections,” Johnson told the British Parliament.

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