93-year-old dictator Robert Mugabe’s reign over Zimbabwe appears to be coming to an end, as the military has reportedly placed him under house arrest. Military forces have also seized control of state media, which they helpfully used to inform the public that “this is not a military takeover.”
CNN reports that South African President Jacob Zuma confirmed that Mugabe is “unable to leave his home,” which is surrounded by troops. The New York Times cites reports that he is in “custody” and under “house arrest.”
Major General Sibusiso Moyo gave an address from the state-run (and evidently now military-run) Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation on Wednesday morning in which he insisted the security of Mugabe and his family was “guaranteed.”
“We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover,” said General Moyo, seated in the news anchor’s chair in his military uniform. “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 normal.”
British citizens in Zimbabwe were given similar guidance by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office early on Wednesday.
“Due to the uncertain political situation in Harare, including reports of unusual military activity, we recommend British nationals currently in Harare to remain safely at home or in their accommodation until the situation becomes clearer,” the FCO said, referring to the capital city, which is currently patrolled by tanks and squads of soldiers.
Moyo spoke of a “plan by the same individuals to influence the current purging taking place in Zanu-PF to the civil service.” This was a reference to the power struggle within Mugabe’s party, which entered a critical stage when Mugabe sacked his deputy and one-time heir apparent Emmerson Mnangagwa, apparently in a bid to install his much younger wife Grace Mugabe as his successor.
“She entered politics only two years ago, had no role in the nation’s liberation war and treated with open contempt politicians who had been waiting decades to succeed her husband,” the New York Times writes of 52-year-old Mrs. Mugabe’s thin resume. One of the more memorable statements of her brief political career was describing Mnangagwa as a snake whose head should be crushed with a rock.
The UK Daily Mail reports rumors that Mugabe’s wife, mocked as “Gucci Grace” for her enthusiastic shopping habits, was allowed to leave the country and has fled to Namibia. Other reports say she is under house arrest with her husband.
Zimbabwe army chief General Constantino Chiwenga described the sacking of Mnangagwa this week as a sinister purge against “members of the party with a liberation background” and “treacherous shenanigans” that must “stop forthwith.”
Mnangagwa himself chimed in to tell Mugabe that Zanu-PF is “not personal property for you and your wife to do with as you please.” The smart money said that after decades of reflexive deference to Mugabe’s squalid and increasingly erratic dictatorship, Zimbabwe’s political system had finally produced a challenger with the right political skills and timing to seize power from the aged leader. It did not hurt Mnangagwa’s chances that Zimbabwean commerce is now conducted with 100-trillion-dollar bills.
The U.S. Embassy in Zimbabwe closed on Wednesday, with all employees instructed to “shelter in their residences” until further notice during the current “political uncertainty.”
“Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence. Avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place and exercise caution when in the vicinity of any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations,” the embassy advised.
Protest pastor Evan Mawarire more-or-less called for the public to support the military and turn the coup into a revolution on Wednesday, urging all citizens to “stand up against our government” while also asking the military to protect the national Constitution.
“We’re very cognizant of the fact that we must not take our eye off the ball in making sure that our constitution is not violated, in making sure that democracy is maintained as the preferred way to govern our nation,” he said.
Harare resident Rumbi Katepfu summed up much of the public attitude toward the strange not-a-coup in remarks to the UK Express: “I don’t support the army but I am happy to see Mugabe gone, maybe this country can start to develop again. I did not think this would ever happen … We used to think Mugabe and Grace were invincible.”