Zimbabwe: Social media abuzz with rumours of imminent coup; claims Mugabe residence under siege

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    Reuters reported that witnesses had seen four
    tanks heading towards Harare on Tuesday and that
    another witness had seen two other tanks parked beside the main
    road from Harare to Chinhoyi, about 20km from the
    city.

    Other reports claimed that the army had been
    besieging Mugabe in his residence for two days. In chronically
    rumour-prone Zimbabwe, none of the reports could be confirmed
    and the ruling Zanu-PF party tweeted; “…there is NO coup
    happening in Zimbabwe”.

    The reports or rumours were nonetheless
    inspired by a hard and disturbing fact – military chief General
    Constantine Chiwenga’s public threat on Monday that
    the military would “step in” to stop Mugabe purging leaders of
    the liberation movement. This was a clear reference to vice
    president Emmerson Mnangagwa, strongly supported by the
    military, whom Mugabe fired last week, apparently at the behest
    of his wife Grace.

    Chiwenga– flanked by army chief General
    Philip Sibanda, the acting air force chief and most of the rest
    of the military’s top brass – said the gains of the liberation
    struggle were being threatened by “counter-revolutionaries”
    within Zanu-PF and so the ZDF could be “obliged to take
    corrective measures”.

    His attack was clearly aimed at Grace Mugabe
    who is locked in a bitter power struggle with Mnangagwa. He
    fled the country after being axed, apparently fearing for his
    life, and issued a defiant statement saying that the Mugabes
    and their cohorts would leave Zanu-PF in the coming few weeks “
    as we will very soon control the levers of
    power”.

    Chiwenga’s statement was deleted from all
    state media. On Tuesday Zanu-PF issued a statement, accusing
    Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct… meant to incite insurrection
    and violent challenge to the Constitutional
    Order”.

    But there was no evidence he had been
    fired.

    Opposition Senator David Coltart said on
    Tuesday that Chiwenga’s statement this week clearly showed
    that Mnangagwa did indeed control the levers of power as he had
    boasted.

    He added that Zimbabweans were in denial
    about the country’s perilous situation, apparently unaware
    that the country faced a “grave constitutional
    crisis.” 

    He said Chiwenga had challenged President
    Mugabe “either to turn his back on his wife… or to face the
    wrath of the military”. But Mugabe would never abandon his wife
    at his age and in his state of dependence.

    He also did not think that Mugabe would call
    Chiwenga’s bluff. Chiwenga’s threats were no bluff as he was
    backed by most of the military command.

    It would also be a grave mistake
    to think that this comes from a small or weak faction of the
    military,” Coltart added, noting that Chiwenga had been flanked
    by Sibanda and about 90 other senior officers when he read his
    statement.

    It appears that the only
    significant officers not present were Police Commissioner
    Chihuri and air force commander Shiri (who I am told is ill).
    The presence of General Sibanda in particular demonstrates that
    at the very least a significant portion of the military oppose
    what is going on within Zanu-PF, and consequently the decisions
    taken recently by President
    Mugabe.

    So although General Chiwenga did
    not overtly threaten a coup, and although he swore allegiance
    to President Mugabe, in reality the military have demanded that
    Mugabe reverse his various decisions or else there will be
    consequences. It is hard to see Mugabe backing down on the
    decisions he has taken, and therein lies the growing crisis –
    or the vortex of the perfect storm I have been speaking and
    writing about for 18
    months.”

    Coltart said some in the Zimbabwean
    opposition were gloating over Chiwenga’s challenge to Mugabe.
    But he himself warned that a military coup would be a disaster
    for Zimbabwe, not only because it would be
    unconstitutional but because there was no guarantee that the
    military would return Zimbabwe to civilian rule if
    the military did take power.

    He urged the political opposition instead to
    join forces with the Zanu-PF dissidents in Parliament to
    impeach Mugabe under section 97 of the Constitution. This would
    require a two-thirds majority of both houses of Parliament. But
    Coltart thought that high threshold could be achieved because
    of the growing numbers of disaffected Zanu-PF legislators who
    supported either Mnangagwa or former vice president Joice
    Mujuru whom Mugabe fired two years ago, also at Grace Mugabe’s
    behest.

    A senior South African official said the
    government was watching the situation closely but had not
    confirmed the truth of the social media reports that a coup was
    actually under way.

    Those pictures of
    tanks heading for Harare seem to be old,” he said, adding that
    other neighbours of Zimbabwe, such as Botswana, had also not
    confirmed the reports.

    Until the reports were confirmed, Pretoria
    would not intervene in the crisis, he
    said.

    He nonetheless agreed that General Chiwenga’s
    statement was disturbing and that “most of the top brass seem
    to be behind him”.

    He urged the military not to intervene,
    saying “they know SADC and the AU’s position against
    unconstitutional changes of government”.

    This was a reference to standing
    decisions of the Southern African Development Community and the
    African Union that any member government that came to power by
    military coup or other “unconstitutional means” would be
    expelled from these two organisations.

    DM

    File Photo: Zimbabwe President
    Robert Mugabe by © Reuters Photographer /
    Reuters

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