The armed forces seized power in Zimbabwe after a week of confrontation with President Robert Mugabe’s government and said the action was needed to stave off violent conflict in the southern African nation that he’s ruled since 1980.
The Zimbabwe Defense Forces will guarantee the safety of Mugabe, 93, and his family and is 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,” Major-General Sibusiso Moyo said in a televised address in Harare, the capital. All military leave has been canceled, he said.
Denying that the action was a military takeover, Moyo said “as soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect the situation to return to normalcy.” He urged the other security services to cooperate and warned that “any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.”
The action came a day after armed forces commander Constantine Chiwenga announced that the military would stop “those bent on hijacking the revolution.”
As several armored vehicles appeared in the capital on Tuesday, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front described Chiwenga’s statements as “treasonable” and intended to incite insurrection. Later in the day, several explosions were heard in the city.
The military intervention followed a week-long political crisis sparked by Mugabe’s decision to fire his long-time ally Emmerson Mnangagwa as vice president in a move that paved the way for his wife Grace and her supporters to gain effective control over the ruling party. Nicknamed “Gucci Grace” in Zimbabwe for her extravagant lifestyle, she said on Nov. 5 that she’s prepared to succeed her husband.
The events unfolded as Zimbabwe is in deep crisis. The economy has halved in size since 2000 and the nation has no currency of its own, using mainly the dollar as legal tender. Lines of people waiting to make bank withdrawals snake around city blocks in Harare. Some sleep in the streets to ensure they’re served. An estimated 95 percent of the workforce is jobless and as many as 3 million Zimbabweans have gone into exile.
The country is now under military rule, said Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean law lecturer who is based in the U.K. and helped design Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution.
“When you see a man in uniform reading news on national television, you know it’s done,” he said in a text message. “There are no more questions. Authority is now in the hands of the military.”
Mnangagwa, who said he fled Zimbabwe because of threats against him and his family, had been a pillar of a military and security apparatus that helped Mugabe emerge as the nation’s leader after independence from the U.K. in 1980. He was Zimbabwe’s first national security minister.
Mnangagwa’s dismissal signaled Mugabe’s break with most of his allies who fought in the liberation war against the white-minority regime of Rhodesia, leaving his 52-year-old wife’s so-called Generation-40 faction of younger members of the ruling party in the ascendancy.
While Zanu-PF named Mugabe as its presidential candidate, he’s appeared frail in public, sparking concern among his supporters that he wouldn’t be able to complete another five-year term.
Moyo, in the statement, told members of parliament that the military’s “desire is that a dispensation is created that allows you to serve your respective constituencies according to democratic tenants.”
— With assistance by Godfrey Marawanyika, and Brian Latham