HARARE – The military has placed President Robert Mugabe under house arrest following their seizure of power in the early hours of yesterday morning, suggesting the country could be on the verge of a transition whose structure remains unclear.
That Mugabe, who has ruled the country since independence in 1980, has been confined to his residence in the leafy Borrowdale area, is indicative of the army’s desire to use his curtailed freedom to negotiate a deal favourable to its interests.
South African President and chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Jacob Zuma issued a statement yesterday, saying Mugabe had been placed under house arrest.
“President Zuma spoke to . . . Mugabe earlier today who indicated that he was confined to his home but said that he was fine,” his office said yesterday.
Zuma said he was sending special envoys to Zimbabwe and Angola in light of the ongoing situation here, his office added.
He was expected to send the minister of Defence and Military Veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, and the minister of State Security, Bongani Bongo, to meet with Mugabe and the military chiefs.
“The special envoys will also be sent to the Republic of Angola to see President Joao Lourenco, chairperson of the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security to brief him on the situation,” Zuma’s office said.
Following the army’s dramatic seizure of power, there are reports that former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa could be preparing to return to Zimbabwe and assume a leadership role.
Mnangagwa had been in self-imposed exile in China since his dismissal a fortnight ago.
Nicknamed “Ngwena” (the Crocodile) because of his fearsome power and ruthlessness, the 75-year-old had appeared to have been outfoxed by Grace Mugabe, who is 41 years younger than her husband, after she apparently convinced the veteran head of State to ditch his long-serving minister.
Reports also indicated Grace might have fled the country for neighbouring Namibia although it was unclear how she was able to make her escape.
Eddie Cross, a Member of Parliament from the main opposition party, MDC, was quoted saying he understood the first lady was now in Namibia.
Yesterday, Zimbabweans woke up to the news that the military had seized power in a move which potentially brings to an end Mugabe’s 37 years of political dominance in Zimbabwe.
Large troops of soldiers were deployed to Mugabe’s residence known as the Blue Roof in Borrowdale where the veteran leader and his wife, Grace, were placed under house arrest.
House arrest is the state of being kept as a prisoner in one’s own home, rather than in a prison.
Earlier on Tuesday, Mugabe had addressed his usual weekly Cabinet meeting at the Munhumutapa Offices along Samora Machel Avenue, a day after the Commander of the Defence Forces General Constantino Chiwenga had warned that the military would not hesitate to step in if the 93-year-old and his colleagues in Zanu PF continued with purges of senior officials with liberation credentials.
As Mugabe addressed the Cabinet, tankers and armoured military vehicles were making their way into the Central Business District (CBD), causing widespread panic to ordinary citizens.
However, the army did not disrupt business but overran the ZBC shortly before 11:00pm when soldiers stormed the State broadcaster and seized control ahead of the announcement of military intervention by Major General Sibusiso B Moyo, Chief of Staff Logistics, who read a statement announcing the takeover.
“Following the address we made on November 13, 2017, which we believe our main broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and The Herald were directed not to publicise, the situation in our country has moved to another level. Firstly, 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.
“We are 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.
“As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy. To the civil servants, as you are aware, there is a plan by the same individuals to influence the current purging that is taking place in the political sphere to the civil service. We are against that act of injustice and we intend to protect every one of you against that,” Major General Moyo said in his announcement.
“To the Judiciary, the measures underway are intended to assure that as an independent arm of the State you are able to exercise your independent authority without fear of being obstructed as has been the case with this group of individuals.
“To our members of Parliament, your legislative role is of paramount importance for peace and stability in this country and it is our desire that a dispensation is created that allows you to serve your respective political constituencies according to democratic tenets,” he said further.
“To the generality of the people of Zimbabwe, we urge you to remain calm and limit unnecessary movement. However, we encourage those who are employed and those with essential business in the city to continue their normal activities usual. Our wish is that you enjoy your rights and freedoms and that we return our country to a dispensation that allows for investment, development and prosperity that we all fought for and for which many of our citizens paid the supreme sacrifice.
“To political parties we urge you to discourage your members from engaging in violent behaviour.
“To the youth we call upon you to realise that the future of this country is yours. Do not be enticed with dirty coins of silver. Be disciplined and remain committed to the ethos and values of this great nation.
“To all churches and religious organisations in Zimbabwe we call upon you and your congregations to pray for our country and preach the gospel of love, peace, unity and development,” Major General Moyo added.
“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. What the Zimbabwe Defence Forces is actually doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in a violent conflict. We call upon all the war veterans to play positive in ensuring peace, stability and unity in the country.
“To members of the defence forces, all leave is cancelled and you are all to return to your barracks with immediate effect,” He added.
Curiously, the military moved two hours after Zanu PF — through its spokesperson and minister of Information Simon Khaya Moyo — had released a statement read on the main bulletin, which accused Chiwenga of carrying out a ‘‘treasonous act’’ when he issued the army warning on Monday.
Yesterday, heavily-armed soldiers patrolled the CBD and stationed their tanks at Parliament, High Court and Constitutional Courts as well as Mugabe’s offices.
Ordinary citizens were going about their business as usual but dark clouds hung over the sky as the public tried to digest the presence of the military and the news that had been broadcast on social media which said Mugabe had fallen.
The streets of Harare were swarmed too by intelligence operatives who were placed in the crowds on an extraordinary day where fast-paced events caught the public by surprise.
The military had, however, on Monday set the tone for Zimbabwean politics when in his unprecedented public reprimand of Mugabe and Zanu PF, Chiwenga warned the former liberation movement against firing struggle stalwarts from within its ranks.
“The current purging of which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background must stop forthwith,” the visibly angry general thundered at a media conference in the capital.
His open and scathing criticism of the ruling party’s leadership came after Mnangagwa was fired from both the government and the party last week, for allegedly showing “traits of disloyalty”.
Zanu PF has for the past five years been devouring itself through its internecine infighting, which first led to the expulsion of former vice president Joice Mujuru in the run up to the party’s hotly-disputed congress in 2014.
Mujuru — together with party stalwarts who included Cabinet ministers Didymus Mutasa and Rugare Gumbo — were hounded out of the former liberation movement on untested allegations of plotting to topple Mugabe from power.
At the beginning of 2015, the infighting escalated further, as a faction of young Turks going by the moniker Generation 40 (G40) launched a vicious and ultimately successful assault on Mnangagwa, as it went full steam to derail his ambitions to succeed Mugabe.
Mnangagwa, until his surprise sacking last week, had been Mugabe’s aide for more than five decades and many people were for long seeing him as a shoo-in to succeed the Zanu PF leader.
However, and particularly since the beginning of this year, it had become evident that the relationship between the two men had become increasingly strained and untenable.
With Zanu PF divided in the middle over the party’s unresolved succession riddle, the tribal and factional feuds took an ominous turn in August when Mnangagwa fell sick during an interface rally in Gwanda — which his backers said was allegedly a poison attack by his G40 enemies.
The Midlands godfather was later airlifted to South Africa where he received emergency surgery.
He subsequently issued a statement denying that his illness was caused by ice cream from the First Family’s Gushungo Dairies, although he consistently suggested that he had indeed been poisoned.
In the past few weeks, Grace had cranked up the heat on Mnangagwa, accusing him of fanning the ruling party’s rampant factionalism, being a coward and also occupying a position that should have been reserved for a woman.
After firing Mnangagwa, who has since gone into self-imposed exile, Zanu PF provinces have now also since gone on to recommend the expulsion of more than 100 senior officials said to have been backing him.