HARARE, (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party said on Tuesday it would never succumb to military pressure and described a statement by the armed forces chief that he would intervene to end a purge within the party as “treasonable conduct”.
In the statement, ZANU-PF said it stood by the “primacy of politics over the gun” and accused armed forces chief Constantino Chiwenga of trying to disturb the peace and stability of the impoverished southern African nation.
Several armoured personnel carriers were spotted on the outskirts of Harare on Tuesday, a day after Zimbabwe’s army chief warned that his forces could step in to settle bitter factional infighting within President Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party. Although the military vehicles did not move into the centre of the Zimbabwean capital, the unusual display was seen as a show of force under the guise of a training drill.
Witnesses said the APCs moved from the Inkomo barracks north of Harare toward the headquarters of Mr Mugabe’s presidential guard. Infrastructure in the capital, including phone and power lines remained working as normal and state broadcasting was unaffected. A day earlier, General Constantino Chiwenga, the head of the armed forces, held a rare press conference in which he said the military would not “hesitate to step in” to “protect the revolution”.
Many interpreted his statement as a warning against Mr Mugabe, who has ruled the southern African nation with an iron grip since independence from Britain in 1980. Tensions have been high since last week when Mr Mugabe, at 93 the world’s oldest leader, fired his deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa, who subsequently fled into exile claiming threats against his life.
The sacking of Mr Mugabe’s presumed successor has triggered fears of a purge of his supporters and has raised concern among some in the military that Grace Mugabe, the president’s wife, is seeking to manoeuvre herself into pole position to succeed her husband. Mr Mnangagwa is a veteran of Zimbabwe’s liberation war and a close ally of Gen. Chiwenga. Many in Zimbabwe’s military view Mrs Mugabe, 40 years her husband’s junior and the president’s former secretary, as an interloper lacking in the political acumen to lead the party or the country.
Lloyd Msipa, an analyst at the Africa Public Policy Research Institute, who is monitoring the situation from London, said: “There’s a general disquiet within the barracks.” Officials in military intelligence had indicated that Tuesday’s manoeuvres were intended as a show of the army’s strength, he said. The situation remained unpredictable, he added. Mr Mugabe has not responded to Gen Chiwenga’s apparent threat.
Soldiers stand beside armoured vehicles on outskirts of Harare © Reuters But on Tuesday, Kudzai Chipanga, secretary-general of the youth wing of Zanu-PF, said his members were prepared to die to protect the president from the military.
“We will not sit idly and fold our hands whilst cheap potshots and threats are made against Mugabe,” he said. One diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there had definitely been APCs on the streets, which was unusual but not unprecedented. He had received unverified reports that up to 10 military vehicles had been spotted, though they appeared to have returned to barracks by early evening.
Ibbo Mandaza, a former senior member of Zanu-PF, played down the prospects of a coup. He described Gen Chiwenga’s Monday statement as “garbled” and asked rhetorically whether an army chief intent on overthrowing the government would really make a statement in advance.
Piers Pigou, an expert on Zimbabwe with the International Crisis Group, said he was puzzled by Mr Mugabe’s lack of reaction to Gen Chiwenga’s “extraordinary” statement, which he described as “a final warning” to Mr Mugabe to rein in his wife and the Zanu-PF faction behind her. “This is like a game of poker where they’re watching each other’s moves but nobody is playing their hand,” he said. – Reuters