Tensions escalated in Zimbabwe overnight, as military reportedly seized power.
The development comes barely hours after Constantino Chiwenga, commander of Zimbabwe Defence Forces, warned 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe threatening to intervene should his political allies continue to be sidelined.
In what appears to be a military coup, soldiers patrolled the streets of Harare, and about 4 a.m. local time on state broadcaster ZBC, the military spokesperson denied the country was in the grip of a coup, and announced the action was targeted at “criminals” around President Mugabe.
“To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government,” Maj. Gen. S.B. Moyo said.
“What the Zimbabwe Defense Forces is doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in a violent conflict,” he said. He urged the public to remain calm but “limit unnecessary movement.”
The sudden appearance of soldiers in the capital comes amid rising political tensions in the wake of Mugabe’s shock sacking of his deputy, powerful Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Neither Mugabe, who has been in power for 37 years, nor his wife Grace, who has been vying to succeed her husband as president, have been seen or heard from, but Moyo said members of the first family “are safe and sound”.
“We wish to assure the nation that His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, and commander-in-chief of Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Comrade RG Mugabe, and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed,” he said.
Many analysts believe that the move by the President to sack his vice president, which gives Grace Mugabe a clearer path to the presidency, was a risky one.
Grace Mugabe is much younger than her husband and does not enjoy popular support, nor does she have the backing of the liberation-era party stalwarts.
The leader of Zimbabwe’s influential liberation war veterans called on other African nations to re-engage the country, whose economic decline over the past two decades has been on a free-fall.
“This is a correction of a state that was careening off the cliff,” Chris Mutsvangwa, a war veteran, told Reuters.
“It’s the end of a very painful and sad chapter in the history of a young nation, in which a dictator, as he became old, surrendered his court to a gang of thieves around his wife.”