House arrest for Mugabe as generals deny staging coup

AFP
Zimbabwe's military was in control of the country yesterday as President Robert Mugabe said he was under house arrest, although generals denied staging a coup.
AFP

Zimbabwe’s military was in control of the country yesterday as President Robert Mugabe said he was under house arrest, although generals denied staging a coup.

Mugabe’s decades-long grip on power appeared to be fading as military vehicles blocked roads outside the parliament in Harare and senior soldiers delivered a late night television address to the nation.

“The president ... and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed,” Major General Sibusiso Moyo said, slowly reading out a statement.

“We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes ... As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”

Moyo said: “This is not a military takeover of government.”

But the generals’ actions posed a major challenge to 93-year-old Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980.

Neighboring South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, one of Mugabe’s closest allies, said he had spoken to the veteran leader by phone.

Mugabe “indicated that he was confined to his home but said that he was fine,” the South African government said in a statement that called for calm and restraint.

Tensions between Mugabe and the military establishment, which has long helped prop up his authoritarian rule, erupted in public in recent weeks.

The ruling ZANU-PF party on Tuesday accused army chief General Constantino Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct” after he criticized Mugabe for sacking Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Mnangagwa’s dismissal left Mugabe’s wife Grace, 52, in prime position to succeed her husband as the next president — a succession strongly opposed by senior ranks in the military.

As the situation deteriorated overnight, gunfire was heard near Mugabe’s residence.

Yesterday, the country’s TV broadcaster played liberation struggle songs, while many citizens in Harare shopped at markets, drove to work or queued outside banks despite the turmoil.

The US embassy warned its citizens in the country to “shelter in place” due to “ongoing political uncertainty.”

South Africa urged Zimbabwe to resist any “unconstitutional changes” of government, and said it was sending envoys to Harare on behalf of a bloc of southern African nations to help resolve the impasse.

President Mugabe and Grace made no public comment and their exact whereabouts was not known, while government and army spokesmen were not available to comment.

“The government’s silence on the military deployments seem to confirm that President Mugabe has lost control of the situation,” said Robert Besseling, of the London-based EXX Africa risk consultancy.

Mugabe’s poor health has fueled a bitter succession battle as potential replacements jockey for position.

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