Zimbabwe: reports of explosions and takeover of state broadcaster in capital Harare
Zimbabwe Zimbabwe: reports of explosions and takeover of state broadcaster in capital Harare
Military chief accused of âtreasonable conductâ amid rumours of coup attempt in Harare, after unprecedented challenge to President Robert Mugabe
Zimbabweâs capital was in a state of high tension early on Wednesday amid reports of multiple explosions in the streets and soldiers taking over the state broadc aster and manhandling staff.
Witnesses in Harare reported a number of loud explosions and saw armed forces assaulting passers-by in the early hours of the morning.
Soldiers were also seen loading ammunition near a group of four military vehicles. The explosions could be heard near the University of Zimbabwe campus, Reuters reported.
During the drama, the US embassy in the capital tweeted out a message citing âongoing uncertainty.â A statement later posted by the embassy told US citizens in Zimbabwe to âshelter in place until further noticeâ.
The British foreign office earlier said it was âaware of reports of military vehicles moving on the outskirts of Harareâ and said it was monitoring the situation closely.
Reuters said its reporter in the capital had encountered aggressive soldiers telling passing cars to keep moving through the darkness.
âDonât try anything funny. Just go,â one said on Harare Drive.
Two hours lat er, soldiers overran the headquarters of the ZBC, Zimbabweâs 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 told Reuers.
Despite the troops stationed at locations across Harare, there was no word from the military as to the fate of President Robert Mugabe.
The extraordinary events happened hours after Zimbabweâs government accused the head of the armed forces of âtreasonable conductâ ratcheting up tension in the southern African nation.
Armed military vehicles had been seen driving through the capital earlier on Tuesday sparking rumours of a coup attempt just a day after the countryâs military chief â" flanked by other senior officers â" warned that he was prepared to âstep inâ to end a turmoil in the ruling Zanu-PF party.
Witnesses had reported seeing several lorries full of soldiers and at least six armoured vehicles on roads approaching Harare in the late afternoon, though residents said there were no signs of troops at the airport or Mugabeâs official residence.
A second column of military vehicles was later reported moving down the same road.
It remained unclear who ordered the military movement, which came a mid an unprecedented challenge to the 93-year-old president from the countryâs powerful armed forces.
Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabwe has known in 37 years of independence, shocked the country earlier this month when he sacked powerful vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Nicknamed âThe Crocodileâ from his time fighting in the countryâs liberation wars, Mnangagwa has a strong support base among veterans and also from within the security establishment that he once ran.
He had been considered the mostly likely candidate to succeed Mugabe if the president decided to step down or died in office. Mnangagwaâs downfall and flight into exile was widely seen as paving the way for his arch rival, Mugabeâs 52-year-old wife Grace, to take power instead.
Mugabeâs shock move caused widespread discontent among Mnangagwaâs supporters and exposed deep factional divides within Zanu-PF ranks. On Monday, Gen Constantine Chiwenga, the head of Zimbabw eâs military, called a press conference to warn that troops could intervene if long-term political allies continued to suffer.
âWe 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,â Chiwenga said.
âThe current purging, which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background, must stop forthwith,â 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 âtreasonable conductâ.
âSuch 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,â the statement read.
The lack of any word from Mugabe himself suggested the president might be on the back foot, however, said Piers Pigou, an expert on Zimbabwe with the International Crisis Group, who is based in neighbouring South Africa.
Mugabeâs failure to issue a clear statement reassuring supporters suggests he âis not in full control,â Pigou said.
âIt is very unclear how this will play out and there is a certain amount of wishful thinking from those who would like to see Mugabe arrested or dragged off ... but the presidentâs silence suggests he may not be in full control of the situation,â he added.
Mugabeâs 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.
War veterans broke ranks with him in 2016 and have vowed to form a broad front with the opposition to challenge his long rule.
Chris Mutsvangwa, the head of the war veteransâ group, told reporters in Johannesburg last week that Grace Mugabe was âa mad womanâ who had won power through a âcoup ... by marriage certificateâ.
The first lady is a deeply divisive figure in Zimbabwe with limited popular support. She has been 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.
Granted diplomatic immunity after the incident, she was allowed to leave South Africa despite a police inquiry and denies any wrongdoing.
Reports of extravagant purchases, including property in South Africa and a Rolls-Royce, have also angered many Zimbabweans. Pictures of one of the first ladyâs sons apparently pouring most of a bottle of champagne over a luxury watch worth tens of thousands of dollars in a nightclub were shared widely on social media this week.
The former junior administrator is detested by many of the independence-era war veterans, who once enjoyed a privileged r ole in the ruling party under Mugabe, but who have increasingly been banished from senior government and party roles in recent years.
The crisis comes at a time when Zimbabwe faces severe economic problems. The country is struggling to pay for imports due to a shortage of dollars, which has also caused acute cash shortages.
- Robert Mugabe
- Grace Mugabe
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