Zimbabwe’s leader Robert Mugabe and his wife have been detained by the military in a ‘bloodless transition’ of power – and the country’s deposed vice-president has returned from exile.
Mugabe’s decades-long grip on power appeared to be over this morning after military vehicles blocked roads outside the parliament in Harare and senior soldiers delivered a late-night television address to the nation.
This morning, a Twitter account claiming to belong to the country’s ruling party, ZANU PF, suggested the 93-year-old and his family were being ‘detained and are safe, both for the constitution and the sanity of the nation’.
The account claimed that the ‘elderly’ president had been ‘taken advantage of by his wife’, Grace, who had been seen as a possible successor to her husband.
Former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, a veteran of Zimbabwe’s 1970s liberation wars who was sacked by Mugabe earlier this month, has returned from exile.
Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Zimbabwe had ordered employees and US citizens in the African nation to take cover and seek shelter. British nationals are also being advised to stay indoors amid reports of ‘unusual military activity’.
Tweets posted on an account purporting to belong to ZANU PF, denied that there had been a coup, but added: ‘There has been a decision to intervene because our constitution had been undermined, in the interim Comrade E Mnagngawa will be president of ZANU PF as per the constitution of our revolutionary organisation.
‘Last night the first family was detained and are safe, both for the constitution and the sanity of the nation this was necessary.
‘Neither Zimbabwe nor ZANU are owned by Mugabe and his wife. Today begins a fresh new era and comrade Mnangagwa will help us achieve a better Zimbabwe. ‘There was no coup, only a bloodless transition which saw corrupt and crooked persons being arrested and an elderly man who had been taken advantage of by his wife being detained. The few bangs that were heard were from crooks who were resisting arrest, but they are now detained.’
Last night Zimbabwe’s military stormed the country’s national broadcaster’s studios to declare it is ‘targeting criminals’ amid fears of a coup after reports of explosions and gunfire in the capital.
The military read a statement on live TV claiming this not ‘a military takeover of government’ and said Mugabe was safe.
Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, a leading member of the so-called ‘G40’ faction of the ruling ZANU-PF party led by Mugabe’s wife Grace, had also been detained by the military, a government source said
Zimbabwe military’s statement in full after seizing power
Zimbabwe Major General SB Moyo, Chief of Staff Logistics, said on national television:
‘We wish to assure the nation that His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, and commander in chief of Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Comrade RG 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. To the civil servants, as you are aware, there is a plan by the same people to influence the current purging that is taking place in the political sphere to the civil service. We are against that act of injustice and we intend to protect every one of you against that.
‘To the judiciary, the measures underway are intended to assure that as an independent arm of the state you are able to exercise your independent authority without fear of being obstructed.’
Soldiers stormed the headquarters of state broadcaster ZBC in the early hours of Wednesday, two members of staff and a human rights worker told Reuters, as staff complained they were manhandled by the military members.
After taking control of the station, the military released a statement which denied a coup was underway, adding that Mugabe and his family were ‘safe and sound and their security is guaranteed’.
They added that the army were targeting people who ‘were committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country.
‘As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy,’ the statement continued.
Tensions have been rising in the land-locked African country after Zimbabwe’s head of the military, General Constantino Chiwenga, challenged Mugabe over his decision to sack the vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa. The move was widely seen as a power play to make way for his wife Grace to succeed him.
Chiwenga had threatened that the army could ‘step in’ to end President Mugabe’s ‘purge’ of opponents on Monday.
The ruling ZANU-PF party hit back at the threat, saying it would never succumb to military pressure and described the statement by the armed forces chief as ‘treasonable conduct’.
Tanks had been making their way to the city centre throughout the day as tensions reached boiling point.
Then at least three explosions were heard in Harare, sparking fears of a coup which sent shockwaves around Zimbabwe.
Armed soldiers were also reportedly seen assaulting passers-by in the capital and loading ammunition near a group of four military vehicles in an unprecedented challenge to Mugabe.
The Zimbabwean President’s house, where gunfire was heard this morning, was also surrounded by soldiers, but speculation suggested it was for his own protection amid suggestions his 37-year reign was coming to an end.
Zimbabwe’s envoy to South Africa, Isaac Moyo, had earlier reported there was no coup, adding that the government was ‘intact’. e
In Harare in the early hours of this morning, aggressive soldiers told passing cars to keep moving through the darkness.
‘Don’t try anything funny. Just go,’ one barked at a reporter on Harare Drive.
Two hours later, soldiers overran the headquarters of the ZBC, Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster and a principal Mugabe mouthpiece, and ordered staff to leave.
Shortly afterwards, three explosions rocked the center of the southern African nation’s capital, witnesses said.
Despite the troops stationed at locations across Harare, there was no word from the military as to the fate of Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s leader of the last 37 years and the self-styled ‘Grand Old Man’ of African politics.
The US embassy in Zimbabwe on Wednesday warned its citizens in the country to ‘shelter in place’ due to ‘ongoing political uncertainty’ as the crisis deepened.
‘US citizens in Zimbabwe are encouraged to shelter in place until further notice,’ the embassy in Harare said in a statement.
Tanks rolled into Zimbabwe’s capital last night, leaving the nation in political chaos as its army chief was accused of attempting a coup.
The turmoil in Harare was an unprecedented test of dictator Mugabe’s 37-year grip on power.
It came a day after the country’s most powerful generals warned the 93-year-old president he risked a coup if he continued a purge of senior figures in his ruling Zanu-PF party.
Many fear the sackings could clear the way for his wife Grace, 52, to succeed him.
It comes after vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa – nicknamed The Crocodile – was fired by Mugabe last week.
Mr Mnangagwa, 75, who has close ties to the military, had been seen as Mugabe’s natural sucessor, and after he was ousted, he took aim at Mugabe and his supporters.
He said said Zanu-PF was ‘controlled by undisciplined, egotistical and self-serving minnows who derive their power not from the people and the party but from only two individuals in the form of the first family’.
Ministers tried to dismiss reports of an unfolding coup last night as ‘fake news’, but speculation was rife that Mugabe and his family were about to be forced out.
His party said it would never succumb to military pressure and accused army chief General Constantino Chiwenga of ‘treasonable conduct’ because of his threat to step in to end the political purge.
Armoured military vehicles were spotted on key roads inside the capital’s suburbs and there were reports of heavily armed soldiers enforcing a lockdown at Mugabe’s mansion and at the headquarters of the state broadcaster.
Two witnesses described seeing a military convoy near Westgate shopping centre, six miles from central Harare.
One, a fruit seller, said: ‘I saw a long convoy of military vehicles, including tanks.’
Social media users said the army headquarters in the city centre were sealed off, with no one allowed in or out, and that road blocks were in place outside the barracks of the presidential guard.
Others said they had seen tanks heading towards the presidential guard compound in the western suburb of Dzivarasekwa. Conflicting reports from the impoverished southern African country claimed the borders had been sealed and the airport shut, although others insisted reports of a coup had been exaggerated.
Regime officials insisted Mugabe had chaired a planned cabinet meeting in the afternoon as usual, and claimed footage of military vehicles had been faked.
Although witnesses inside the city described seeing ‘tanks’, many images circulating online showed troops in armoured personnel carriers.
A media blackout appeared to be in force and there were conflicting reports from inside Harare about the extent of military manoeuvres, and whether a coup was underway or whether the military was simply putting on a show of force to back up its previous threat to step in.
The military has been a key pillar of Mugabe’s regime and has helped him keep control despite economic ruin, widespread anti-government protests, opposition challenges and international sanctions.
But there has been growing disquiet over threats against senior figures inside Zanu-PF, including Mr Mnangagwa.
The veteran of the Seventies war that led to the country’s independence fell from favour after he spoke out against a party faction led by Mrs Mugabe, saying it was ‘plundering the country’.
After Mugabe accused him of using witchcraft in a plot to take power, Mr Mnangagwa fled the country with his family, but vowed to return and lead a rebellion against the Mugabes, backed by the country’s war veterans and armed forces.
Before he went into exile, Mr Mnangagwa told Mugabe that Zanu-PF was ‘not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please’.His ousting was widely interpreted as a bid to ensure Mrs Mugabe would become vice president at a special conference of the ruling party next month, leaving her as the natural successor to her husband as president.
Surrounded by 90 senior army officers, General Chiwenga called this week for an end to the sacking of senior figures linked to the party’s ‘revolution’ against white minority rule in the Seventies.
The key incidents in Zimbabwe that led to the suspected coup
July: Robert Mugabe warns military leaders against interfering in the fight for succession, saying: ‘Politics shall always lead the gun, and not the gun politics. Otherwise it will be a coup’
November 6: Vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa – nicknamed The Crocodile – is fired by Mugabe
November 13: Zimbabwe’s head of the military says he could ‘step in’ to end President Mugabe’s ‘purge’ of opponents
November 14: Ruling ZANU-PF party to hits back saying it would never succumb to military pressure and described the statement by the armed forces chief as ‘treasonable conduct’
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.’
His comments put him on a collision course with the Mugabe regime, which has listed disciplinary measures against more than 100 senior officials linked to Mr Mnangagwa.
Zanu-PF issued a statement accusing the commander of ‘treasonable conduct’ and said his comments were ‘clearly calculated to disturb national peace and stability’ and to ‘incite insurrection’.
Mugabe has previously warned military leaders against interfering in the fight for succession.
In July, he told supporters: ‘Politics shall always lead the gun, and not the gun politics. Otherwise it will be a coup.’
Opposition politicians have said a military coup would damage Zimbabwe because it would be undemocratic.
Last night the Foreign Office updated its advice for people traveling to Zimbabwe.
It said: ‘We are aware of reports of military vehicles moving on the outskirts of Harare.
‘We are monitoring the situation closely.
‘You should avoid political activity, or activities which could be considered political, including political discussions in public places and criticism of the president.
‘You should avoid all demonstrations and rallies. The authorities have sometimes used force to suppress demonstrations.’
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.’
Earlier on Tuesday the youth wing of Zimbabwe’s ruling party accused Zimbabwe Army chief Chiwenga of subverting the constitution for threatening military intervention.
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.
But 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.
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.
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 93, he is now seeking re-election to make him the world’s oldest dictator.