By Innocent Gore
Harare – Calm returned to Zimbabwe this week after the military appeared to have taken over the government earlier in the week in protest against what they said was the deteriorating political situation within the ruling ZANU-PF, prompting SADC and neighbouring countries to issue warnings against military rule in the country.
Zimbabweans on Wednesday woke up to what analysts said was a military coup, despite denials by the army, with soldiers patrolling the streets of Harare with armoured vehicles parked outside President Mugabe’s office and at parliament. However, shops remained open in Harare’s central business district and across the country as people went about their normal businesses. Zimbabweans appeared to have welcomed the military intervention and hoped to see a change in the country’s economic and political situation, judging by comments on social media.
Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) spokesperson, Subusiso Moyo, had earlier in the morning appeared live on national television saying the army was not engaging in a coup but that it was targeting “criminals” surrounding President Mugabe.
“Firstly, we wish to assure our nation, His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe and Commander-in-Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Comrade R G 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,” he said.
It was not clear at the time of writing when the soldiers would return to the barracks.
Moyo said the defence forces were aware of a plan by some individuals to influence a purge in the civil service and that it was against that “act of injustice and we intend to protect every one of you against that”.
He assured the judiciary that the measures the military had taken were intended to ensure that as an independent arm of the state, it was able to exercise its independent authority without fear of being obstructed.
He also assured Members of Parliament that their legislative role was of paramount importance for peace and stability in the country “and it is our desire that a dispensation is created that allows you to serve your respective political constituencies according to democratic tenets”.
“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 as usual. Our wish is that you will 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 the dirty coins of silver, be disciplined and remain committed to the efforts and values of this great nation,” said Moyo.
He urged the country’s other security arms “to cooperate for the good of our country. Let it be clear we intend to address the human security threats in our country. Therefore any provocation will be met with an appropriate response”.
SADC chairperson, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa was expected to send envoys to Zimbabwe, and to Angola which chairs the regional bloc’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, in effort to address the situation.
President Zuma said he had noted with great concern the unfolding political situation in Zimbabwe and expressed hope that developments in the country would not lead to unconstitutional changes in government as that would be contrary to both SADC and the African Union positions.
Namibia said it had been following the developments in Zimbabwe with concern, and associated itself with the statement issued by Zuma.
“Member States of SADC and AU, Namibia and Zimbabwe share a common destiny and common aspirations for peace, economic prosperity and democracy for our countries and people,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of International Relations, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah.
“Namibia is concerned that the present situation in Zimbabwe creates uncertainty that is not conducive to peace, stability and consolidation of democracy in Zimbabwe and the region as a whole.
Namibia noted that the Zimbabwe Defence Force has assured the Zimbabwe public and the international community at large that they have not overthrown the Government of Zimbabwe and that they have no intention to take over the governance of the country.
“It is the expectation of the Government of Namibia that democratic institutions in Zimbabwe will continue to carry out their constitutional functions. Namibia urges all the parties concerned to scrupulously adhere to the relevant provisions of the SADC Treaty on Governance and the African Union Constitutive Act,” she said.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said that China hoped that Zimbabwe’s relevant parties would properly handle the internal affairs of the country.
China was closely following the developments in Zimbabwe, said Geng Shuang, spokesperson for Chinese Foreign Ministry.
She said maintaining peace, stability and development in Zimbabwe conformed to the fundamental interests of Zimbabwe and its neighbouring regions, and was also the common aspiration of the international community.
Geng also said the visit by General Constantino Chiwenga to China last week was a normal military exchange.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said her country was closely monitoring the situation in its former colony.
“We are monitoring these developments very carefully. The situation is still fluid and we would urge restraint on all sides.
We would call for an avoidance of violence. Of course our primary concern is for the safety of British nationals in Zimbabwe: we do see reports of unusual military movements so we would urge British nationals in Harare to remain safely at home until the situation becomes clear,” May told the House of Commons.
But what led to this situation in Zimbabwe?
Analysts say the impasse could have been triggered by the sacking of Emmerson Mnangagwa from government by President Mugabe on 6 November for “disloyalty”, and demonstrating “little probity” in the execution of his duties.
The ruling ZANU-PF party’s supreme decision-making body outside congress, the Politburo, subsequently expelled him from the party at its meeting on 8 November.
His sacking, ahead of an extraordinary congress in December, was seen as a culmination of intra-party fighting which had seen ZANU-PF split into two factions, one led by Mnangagwa and called Lacoste (Mnangagwa is nicknamed Crocodile) and the other one called G40 fronted by Higher and Tertiary Education Minister Prof Jonathan Moyo and includes Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere and Finance Minister Ignatious Chombo.
Reports said Prof Moyo, Chombo and Kudzai Chipanga, secretary of the ruling party, ZANU-PF, youth wing, had been detained by the military.
Several ZANU-PF structures, including almost all the party’s 10 provinces, the youths and women’s leagues, also endorsed Mnangagwa’s expulsion but analysts saw this as a capture of the ruling party by the G40 faction, which wanted to elevate Grace Mugabe to the position of vice president and subsequently the party and state presidency.
A long-time ally of President Mugabe dating back to the days of the liberation struggle, Mnangagwa was seen by many as a stumbling block to the G40 plans and as the likely successor to the 93-year-old Mugabe. He was also a key ally of ZDF commander, Chiwenga.
After he was sacked from government and the ruling party, Mnangagwa was said to have skipped the border into Mozambique, and then went to South Africa. Unconfirmed reports said his final destination was China.
Interestingly, Chiwenga was believed to have been on an official trip to China when Mnangagwa was fired.
On 8 November, President Mugabe and First Lady Grace Mugabe addressed a ZANU-PF rally in Harare held to back the President’s stance on firing Mnangagwa.
On 13 November, Gen Chiwenga issued a statement saying the military would intervene in ZANU-PF’s political situation to protect the values of the liberation struggle which he said were under threat from a section of people in the ruling party.
Chiwenga said Zimbabwe’s history is hinged on the ideals of the revolution dating back to the First Chimurenga (first war of liberation against colonialism in 1896) where thousands of people perished.
He said any stability in the revolutionary party impacted on people’s social, political and economic lives.
In a statement that was blacked out by state media, Gen. Chiwenga said what was happening in the revolutionary party was a direct result of the machinations of counter-revolutionaries whose agenda was to destroy the party from within.
However, the following day Chipanga blasted Chiwenga for interfering in the party’s affairs.
He said the military should confine itself to the barracks and that youths would stand by Mugabe in the face of any threat to his position as the constitutionally-elected leader of Zimbabwe.
In a statement that analysts said could have been the last straw that broke the camel’s back, ZANU-PF secretary for information and publicity and also Minister of Information and Publicity Simon Khaya Moyo issued a statement read out on state television on Wednesday night in which he described Gen Chiwenga’s statement as “treasonous”.
Khaya Moyo said Gen Chiwenga’s utterances did not represent the rest of the military’s command element and were meant to disturb national peace and stability.
“Consistent with the guiding principle of the national liberation struggle, the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) reaffirms the primacy of politics over the gun.
“It is against an understanding of this abiding principle that the statement issued by General Constantino Chiwenga purporting to speak on behalf of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) was not only surprising, but was an outrageous vitiation of professional soldiership and his wartime record as a high-ranking freedom fighter entrusted with command responsibilities in a free democratic Zimbabwe,” Khaya Moyo said.
“Clearly calculated to disturb national peace and stability, the said statement by General Constantino Chiwenga, which was not signed, and which did not represent the rest of the command element, suggests treasonable conduct on his part as this was meant to incite insurrection and violent challenge to the constitutional order,” he said.
“Indeed, this is what happens when the gun seeks to overreach by dictating to politics and norms of constitutionality. As the party running the democratically elected Government of Zimbabwe, ZANU-PF will never succumb to any threats, least of all those driving from conduct that is inconsistent with the tenets of democracy and constitutionalism,” he said.
Despite the ZDF’s denial, analysts described the Zimbabwean military’s house arrest of President Robert Mugabe, his wife Grace, and other top state officials as a coup d’état.
“It is definitely a coup, in the sense that there’s been a military intervention in the highest office of the state and state functionaries, such as the public broadcaster have been taken over,” said Liesl Louw-Vaudron, analyst for the Institute of Security Studies, quoted by News24.
Willie Breytenbach, Emeritus Professor in Political Science at Stellenbosch University, said that, although the situation would only crystalise over the next few days, it had all the hallmarks of a military coup d’état.
Experts were also in agreement that President Mugabe’s sacking of Mnangagwa and his attempts to have his wife elevated to the position of vice president and, by implication, president, are what led to the dramatic military action.
“What we’re seeing is really the long-term result of the blocking of any kind of democratic transition in Zimbabwe.
The army is now stepping in on behalf of the factional leader (Mnangagwa) in the name of the constitution and Zimbabwe’s democratic ideals,” said Professor Brian Roftopoulos, a leading researcher on Zimbabwe from the University of the Western Cape.
While the military had been careful not to cast their action against Mugabe as a coup, but rather as a “democratic transition”, Roftopoulos said this was because they knew that a coup would not go down well with the Zimbabwean people, who are tired of violence.