By David K. Li
November 15, 2017 | 1:31am
Robert Mugabe Getty Images
Zimbabwe’s army said it detained longtime President Robert Mugabe and seized control of state broadcasters in an apparent coup in the southern African nation.
Military vehicles rolled into the streets of the capital, Harare, late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning.
“We 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,” the army announced on state-run media.
The army also urged other security forces to “cooperate for the good of our country” and warned that “any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.”
It wasn’t immediately clear where the 93-year-old Mugabe, president since 1987, was on Wednesday morning, but the army said he was and his wife were safe.
Chris Mutsvangwa, head a war veterans group, issued a statement, praising Gen. Constantino Chiwenga for carrying out “a bloodless correction of gross abuse of power.”
Mutsvangwa said the army will return Zimbabwe to a “genuine democracy.”
Mutsvangwa’s group is closely aligned with Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice president fired by Mugabe last week.
Washington and London urged US and UK citizens to stay indoors for the time being.
“U.S. citizens in Zimbabwe are encouraged to shelter in place until further notice,” according to a statement from the US embassy.
The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office urged UK nationals “currently in Harare to remain safely at home or in their accommodation until the situation becomes clearer.”
Will Mugabe's hated wife be the tyrant's downfall? IAN BIRRELL explains how power in Zimbabwe could be swinging in favour of former vice-president dubbed 'The Crocodile'
- Several tanks and armed soldiers seen heading towards Harare, Zimbabwe
- Yesterday, head of Zimbabwe's armed forces openly threatened to 'step in'
- Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party said it would never succumb to pressure
Published: 23:10 GMT, 14 November 2017 | Updated: 01:46 GMT, 15 November 2017
With tanks on the streets of Zimbabwe and enemies at the gates of his plush mansion, are we witnessing the end of Robert Mugabe’s remarkable and blood-stained rule over Zimbabwe?
Only one thing was clear last night as rumours swept Harare: after 37 years running the nation, the old despot’s vice-like grip on the shattered ‘breadbasket of Africa’ is weakening.
And the cause? His loathed second wife, Grace.
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe (left) addressing party members and supporters gathered at his party headquarters to show support to Grace Mugabe (right) becoming the party's next Vice President after the dismissal of Emerson Mnangagwa
At stake is not just control of poor, battered Zimbabwe – a country tortured by Mugabe’s decades of disastrous rule – but also the vast flow of money from diamond mines that have turned many of his senior aides into multi-millionaires.
Just days ago, it seemed Grace – 41 years Mugabe’s junior was winning a power struggle worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy to succeed the ailing 93-year-old president.
But with the sensational events of last night, it seems the balance might be tipping in favour of her rival for the crown – a brutal former spy chief nicknamed ‘The Crocodile’.
His real name is Emmerson Mnangagwa, a long-standing supporter of Mugabe until the president sacked him as vice-president last week. Soon after, amid death threats against him, he fled to South Africa.
Mugabe had accused his former deputy of plotting to take power from him, while Grace Mugabe referred to him as a snake that ‘must be hit on the head’.
Yet the combative Mnangagwa, 75, who recently survived a poisoning blamed on ice-cream from Mugabe’s own dairy, has been telling allies he would return rapidly and everything would soon be ‘sorted’.
Zimbabwe's first lady Grace Mugabe greets party supporters at a rally in Chinhoyi, Zimbabwe
He also publicly warned Mugabe the ruling Zanu-PF party was ‘not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please’. Now it appears The Crocodile’s friend, Zimbabwe’s military chief General Chiwenga, has mobilised his forces after issuing a threat earlier this week that the army would not tolerate Grace’s planned purge of 300 senior party figures linked to her rival.
One influential Zimbabwean business figure said last night Mugabe was ‘in lockdown’ at his 25-bedroom mansion in Harare’s Borrowdale suburb.
There were reports of roads to the building being sealed off, with 30 troop-filled trucks patrolling the streets backed by 21 tanks and, of the state broadcaster being taken by troops.
‘It is believed they are negotiating an exit plan for him, to be effective immediately – and Grace has not been allowed to sit in those meetings,’ said the businessman.
Other sources in Harare said the presidential guard had been withdrawn from Mugabe’s side yesterday morning and strategic locations secured by the military.
The army chief issued his warning to Mugabe at a press conference, tellingly flanked by 90 senior officers.
‘The current purging, clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background, must stop forthwith,’ he warned.
Many of those targeted for purging from the party were ‘war veterans’, infamous for their seizures of white-owned farms, yet still influential in Zimbabwe.
Six days ago, their leader declared they ‘completely disowned’ Mugabe following the exile of The Crocodile.
So can these two military leaders reach out for power without getting their hands chopped off?
Zimbabwean Deputy President Emmerson Mnangagwa, known as The Crocodile, greets party supporters at the ZANU-PF headquarters in Harare
Certainly, they have the loyalty of the all-powerful army, and are widely feared across the country after careers steeped in blood.
They were both linked to massacres in the Matabeleland region of the country that killed 20,000 supporters of a rival faction in the years after Zimbabwe won independence from Britain.
But last night their allies were stressing need for a peaceful transfer of control.
It’s unlikely, however, that ‘Gucci Grace’ – as she is dubbed for her love of shopping – will go easily.
Some fear Mrs Mugabe and her so-called ‘G40’ group may try to get Zanu-PF youth gangs out on the streets to back her.
Three years ago, a woman named Joice Mujuru was sacked as vice-president after being accused of plotting against the president.
Her husband, a former army chief said to be the only person brave enough to stand up to Mugabe, died in a suspicious house fire in 2011 amid reports of gunfire.
(One diplomat told me there were rumours his will was worth an astonishing £7billion, underlining the corruption among supposedly communist comrades.)
Grace was expecting to be appointed vice-president at a party congress next month. The trouble for her is that she is widely hated, unlike Mugabe’s first wife.
Her recent escapades include seeing a journalist detained for saying she donated used underwear to supporters, and relying on diplomatic immunity to evade charges for assaulting a model in South Africa.
Several tanks were seen moving near the Zimbabwean capital Harare on November 14, 2017
The 52-year-old has bought homes in Dubai and South Africa, spent £3million of state funds on her daughter’s wedding, and recently bought a £300,000 Rolls-Royce.
Her three sons, one from a previous marriage, angered Zimbabweans by flaunting their wealth.
One receipt posted online showed a single night’s spending of $3,000 – three times the average annual income.
The youngest recently filmed himself pouring expensive champagne over a diamond-encrusted watch, bragging he owned the timepiece because ‘daddy runs the whole country’.
Mugabe’s mismanagement has wrecked Zimbabwe, a well-educated nation with many natural resources.
He sparked history’s second-worst hyper-inflation, while seven in ten citizens are stuck in poverty.
That’s why, as the tanks roll in and rumours spread like wildfire, there will be few tears shed if this is indeed the end-game in an epic power struggle that leaves ‘the Old Man’ and his despised wife finally thrown from power.