A military convoy has been seen heading towards the capital of Zimbabwe, less than a day after the head of the military said he could ‘step in’ to end President Mugabe’s ‘purge’ of opponents.
Mugabe plunged the country into crisis last week by sacking vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, widely seen as a power move to make way for his wife Grace to succeed him.
Yesterday, the head of the armed forces Constantino Chiwenga, openly threatened to intervene in politics if Mugabe did not stop removing veterans from government.
But this afternoon, Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party said it would never succumb to military pressure and described the statement by the armed forces chief as ‘treasonable conduct’.
In the statement, ZANU-PF said it stood by the ‘primacy of politics over the gun’ and accused Chiwenga of trying to disturb the peace and stability of the impoverished southern African nation.
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Coup? A number of tanks were seen heading for the Zimbabwean capital of Harare on Tuesday, a day after the head of the armed forces threatened to intervene
Today, a convoy of military vehicles, including tanks were seen moving towards Harare.
‘I saw a long convoy of military vehicles, including tanks, about an hour ago. I don’t know where they were heading,’ a female fruit seller near Westgate shopping centre, about six miles from central Harare, told AFP.
In addition, two tanks were seen parked beside the main road from Harare to Chinhoyi, 14 miles from the city, pointing in the direction of the capital.
Despite the reports of the tanks, Zimbabwe’s ruling party Zanu PF took to Twitter to deny rumours of a coup.
‘Thanks for your concerns, there is NO coup happening in Zimbabwe. Please continue with your lives and face up to your own problems.’
Armed forces: A Reuters witness saw four tanks heading to Harare and two other tanks parked beside the main road from Harare to Chinhoyi, about 14 miles from the city
Military on the move: Yesterday, the head of the armed forces Constantino Chiwenga, openly threatened to intervene in politics if Mugabe did not stop removing veterans from government
Earlier on Tuesday the youth wing of Zimbabwe’s ruling party accused Zimbabwe Army chief Chiwenga of subverting the constitution for threatening military intervention.
The world’s oldest dictator: How Mugabe took power in 1980 after leading the fight against British rule
Robert Mugabe was born on February 21, 1924, in Kutama, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
In 1963, he founded ZANU, a resistance movement against British colonial rule.
In 1974, Prime Minister Ian Smith, who claimed he would achieve true majority rule but still declared his allegiance to the British colonial government, allowed Mugabe to leave prison and go to a conference in Lusaka, Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia).
Mugabe instead escaped back across the border to Southern Rhodesia, assembling a troop of Rhodesian guerilla trainees along the way.
The battles raged on throughout the 1970s and by 1980, when British rule ended, Mugabe became prime minister of the new Republic of Zimbabwe.
In 1987, he was elected president of Zimbabwe.
Mugabe shared power with Morgan Tsvangirai from 2008 to 2013, but resumed control afterward.
At 92, he is now seeking re-election to make him the world’s oldest dictator.
Now-sacked vice-president Mnangagwa, 75, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation wars, had been viewed as a likely successor to Mugabe before the president fired him on November 6.
His downfall appeared to pave the way for Mugabe’s wife Grace to succeed the 93-year-old president.
In an unprecedented response to the sacking of Mnangagwa, Chiwenga openly threatened to intervene in politics on Monday if the purge of war veterans did not stop.
He appeared to allude to Mrs Mugabe when he said: ‘We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that, when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in,’ Chiwenga said in a statement at a news conference packed with top brass on Monday.
Grace Mugabe, 52, has developed a strong following in the powerful youth wing of the ruling Zanu PF party, and they have endorsed her to replace Mr Mnangagwa, though no announcement has yet been made.
Her rise has brought her into conflict with the independence-era war veterans, who have increasingly been banished from senior government and party roles in recent years.
Mugabe, who is nearly 94 years old, is the only leader Zimbabwe has known in 37 years of independence: first as the chair of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANY), then as leader of the ZANY party as Prime Minister and then President.
Under Mugabe’s leadership the GDP of Zimbabwe has fallen by almost 50 per cent, according to the United Nations.
The country suffered badly during the recession and experienced hyperinflation and a widespread lack of food and other essentials.
Things have slightly recovered, but are still significantly worse than when the family took power.
Warning: Zimbabwe Army chief Constantino Chiwenga (right) addresses a media conference in Harare on Monday
Ageing: Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, 93, who has been in power since 1980, is in increasingly fragile health and makes regular trips abroad for medical treatment
Tensions over the succession of Mugabe, recently erupted into the open, and had pitched First Lady Grace Mugabe against now-sacked Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa
First Lady: Grace Mugabe, 52, pictured with her husband, is now being lined up to suceed her husband after her opponent was fired
Meanwhile, the Mugabe’s themselves live their lives bathing in eye-watering luxury.
The couple’s two sons, Chatunga and his brother Robert Jr, are well-known for their hard partying and have been seen flashing their riches on social media.
This week Chatunga posted a video of himself pouring hundreds of pounds worth of champagne over a £45,000 diamond-encrusted wristwatch,
The brothers caused an international incident earlier this year while in South Africa, after the disappeared on a wild night out, prompting Mrs Mugabe to go looking for them.
Finding 20-year-old model Gabriella Engels instead, Mrs Mugabe allegedly beat her over the head with an electrical plug when she was unable to say where the boys had gone.
That led to a warrant being issued for her arrest, though she was eventually granted diplomatic immunity and allowed to leave the country.
Mrs Mugabe is currently suing a Lebanese jeweller for failing to deliver a £1million diamond ring she bought to mark her 21st wedding anniversary with the dictator.
MILITARY COUP OR MORE MUGABE? WHAT MIGHT HAPPEN NEXT IN ZIMBABWE
President Mugabe has exerted almost total authority over Zimbabwean politics for decades – but the sacking of his most senior long-time confidante could spark repercussions beyond his control.
The removal of Mnangagwa, who has powerful military connections, has laid bare the rivalries inside Zimbabwe’s political establishment as Mugabe, 93, shows increasing signs of old age.
Mnangagwa, 75, quickly fled into exile, but he vowed to return and launched a direct challenge to Mugabe by calling for members of the ruling ZANU-PF party to desert the president.
Mnangagwa issued a defiant statement on Wednesday, telling Mugabe that ZANU-PF was ‘not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please’.
ZANU-PF will hold its annual congress next month when Mrs Mugabe could be appointed as one of the country’s two vice presidents.
But the potential leadership role for Mrs Mugabe, who has many opponents within the party and government, could even threaten the future of ZANU-PF.
‘This is the beginning of the end of ZANU-PF, it is a total destruction of Mugabe’s legacy,’ independent analyst Dewa Mavhinga told AFP.
‘If Grace ascends to the top, she will fall because she has created so many enemies. She has been reckless. ZANU could be destroyed from within.’
Mnangagwa’s next move is uncertain, but any path back to high office seems beset with obstacles.
‘It will be very difficult for him reinvent himself as a democrat because he is cut from the same cloth as Mugabe,’ said Mavhinga.
Mnangagwa was instrumental in much past election violence, including the 2008 presidential runoff when opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out due to a wave of killings and beatings.
And as security minister in the 1980s, Mnangagwa played a leading role in the Gukurahundi massacres that claimed the lives of around 20,000 perceived dissidents in the southwest of the country.
The next flashpoint could be next week when Mnangagwa supporters plan to stage protests against Mugabe in Harare.
But some experts believe the turmoil may actually allow Mugabe – the world’s oldest national leader – to strengthen the extraordinary hold on power he has maintained since 1980.