Zimbabwe's Military Has Taken Control of the Capital. Here's What We Know
[videoid=5646864050001] After a night of confusion in which tanks rolled onto the streets of Zimbabweâs capital Harare, the countryâs military said early Wednesday that it had taken President Robert Mugabe and his wife into custody. While the armed forces appear now to be effectively in control of the city, a military spokesperson took to the airwaves to insist that what just happened was not a coup dâetat.
âWe wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover,â the spokesperson said on a nationwide broadcast after soldiers took over a state-run television channel. âWe are only targeting criminals around [Mugabe] who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.â
The spokesperson also said the military guaranteed the security of Mugabe and his wife, and sought to reassure the public the situation would soon âreturn to normalcy.â The crisis was caused by a power struggle over who would succeed the 93-year-old dictator, which looked likely to be Grace Mugabe, his 52-year-old wife who is now reportedly in custody with him.
Details remain scarce and this story is developing. Hereâs what we know:
What just happened?
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that armed soldiers in armored vehicles had been stationed throughout the capital, and that at least three explosions were heard. Soldiers then took over the headquarters of the state broadcaster and announced that they were now in charge as the president and his wife were detained.
The U.S. Embassy was closed to th e public and U.S. citizens have been advised to take shelter where they are, due to âthe ongoing political uncertainty through the night.â
Why is it happening now?
The militaryâs move comes less than 48-hours after the army commander warned that he would âstep inâ to calm political tension should a recent purge of government officials continue, and about one week after Mugabe sacked his Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Liberation army veteran Mnangagwa was sacked amid infighting among the Zimbabwe African National Union â" Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) party, which has ruled the country since independence in 1980. One faction of the party is comprised of former liberation fighters who are loyal to Mnangagwa. They are facing off against the partyâs youth faction, who are loyal to Mugabeâs wife, Grace.
Mugabeâs dismissal of Mnangagwa, for allegedly plotting against the government, appeared to pave the way for Grace Mugabe to become the presidentâs successor. But liberation war veterans and military service members hold much of the power behind Mugabeâs rule, and they intend to choose who will replace the nonagenarian.
Who is Grace Mugabe?
The presidentâs wife is a deeply polarizing figure in her country. The former secretary married Mugabe in 1996 after the death of his first wife. She quickly earned the nickname âGucci Graceâ for her lavish shopping trips abroad despite being on an E.U. sanctions list since 2002, when restrictions were imposed as punishment for electoral fraud and human rights abuses committed by the regime. When questioned about her spending habits, she reportedly said: âI have very narrow feet, so I can only wear Ferragamo.â
In August this year, she made headlines for allegedly lashing a model with a plug after finding her in a hotel room with her two younger sons, Bellarmine and Robert Jr. She managed to escape prosecution when the South African government allowed her to claim diplomatic immunity.
Beyond the extravagance, she has proven to be politically ambitious. In 2014, she was unveiled as a potential successor to her husband, the worldâs oldest head of state, after gaining a seat in Zanu-PFâs powerful politburo. That year, she influenced the dismissal of another competitor to the throne, former Vice President Joice Mujuru.
This July, she challenged her husband to name his preferred successor and has explicitly expressed her desire to succeed him.
Is this a coup?
That depends on who you ask. The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, which is funded by the government, praised the militaryâs action as âa bloodless correction of gross abuse of power,â according to the Associated Press.
A Twitter account purportedly representing the Zanu-PF posted a series of tweets denying that a coup had taken place, and announcing that former Vice President Mnagngawa would assume control of the country for an âinterimâ period.
Along with further reassurances of the first familyâs safety, the tweets said the only violence related to the takeover was in relation to âcrooksâ who were resisting arrest.
A statement purporting to be from the Zanu PF Youth Leagueâs Twitter account also denied a coup.
However, less than 24-hours earlier the same account had stated in a post that Zimbabweâs military commander âshould confine himself to the barracks and totally divorce himself from politics.âSource: Google News