The military has taken over Zimbabwe, placing President Robert Mugabe under house arrest and detaining senior government officials in what many are expecting to be the beginning of a transition of power.
Military officials denied carrying out a coup as they took over the state TV and broadcast a message insisting the president and his wife were “secure”, adding that they were targeting a ring of government plotters following a power struggle that saw the vice-president flee the country last week.
Jacob Zuma, the South African president, said he had spoken to Mr Mugabe by phone who told him he was “confined to his home but said that he was fine”.
“It is not a military takeover of government,” an army spokesman said in a televised statement. “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.”
The address came hours after several loud explosions echoed across central Harare and troops seized the headquarters of the ZBC, Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster.
Several cabinet ministers, including local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere and finance minister Ignatius Chombo, and Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwayo, were arrested. There was allegedly a brief gun fight outside Mr Chombo’s house. All three are part of the G40 faction of Zanu-PF which is loyal to Grace Mugabe, who was being lined up to take over from her husband after the vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa was fired last week.
Boris Johnson called for calm in a statement to the House of Commons in which he also criticised Mr Mugabe’s legacy and suggested that a transition may provide a “moment of hope” for Zimbabweans.
Speculation had been mounting on Tuesday that a coup was under way against Mr Mugabe, after the head of the armed forces threatened to “step in” over the sacking of an influential vice president.
Gunfire erupted near Mr Mugabe’s private residence in Harare in the early hours of Wednesday, residents living close to Mugabe’s mansion in the suburb of Borrowdale said. Armed soldiers took positions at major buildings and routes.
Zimbabwe Army General Constantino Chiwenga Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces addresses a media conference held at the Zimbabwean Army Headquarters on November 13, 2017 in Harare
Zimbabwe Army General Constantino Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, addresses a media conference held at the Zimbabwean Army Headquarters on November 13, 2017 in Harare Credit: AFP
Two hours later, soldiers overran ZBC, a principal Mugabe mouthpiece, and ordered staff to leave. Shortly afterwards, three explosions rocked the centre of the southern African nation’s capital, near the University of Zimbabwe campus, witnesses said.
Tensions have been building in Zimbabwe since Mr Mnangagwa, a powerful figure in the ruling Zanu-PF party, fled to South Africa last week after he was fired and was then stripped of his lifetime membership of the party. The move was widely seen as part of a battle between Mr Mnangagwa and Mrs Mugabe, the first lady, over the presidential succession when Mr Mugabe dies or steps down.
Rumours were swirling ton Wednesday morning that Mr Mugabe and his wife have been offered safe passage to Singapore, but this could not be confirmed. Eddie Cross, an opposition MP in Zimbabwe, has told BBC News that he believes Grace Mugabe has crossed the border to Namibia.
South Africa urged neighbouring Zimbabwe to resist any “unconstitutional changes” of government, but stopped short of criticising the armed uprising. The African Union said it “seems like a coup” and called on the military to halt their actions and restore constitutional order.
Armoured personnel carriers are stationed at major junctions in Harare as residents attempt to continue with their daily lives under the spectre of an alleged coup
Armoured personnel carriers are stationed at major junctions in Harare as residents attempt to continue with their daily lives under the spectre of an alleged coup Credit: AP
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, said that while Britain must do its part to support peace, the transition represented “potentially a moment of hope”.
He attacked the dictator’s record and added: “Authoritarian rule, whether in Zimbabwe or anywhere else, should have no place in Africa… Elections are due to be held in the first half of next year. We will do all we can with our international partners to ensure this provides a genuine opportunity for all Zimbabweans to decide their future.”