A Coup in Zimbabwe? Robert Mugabe is Seemingly Deposed

The Zimbabwean military has apparently taken control in the capital city of Harare and detained longtime president Robert Mugabe. Army spokesperson spokesman Maj Gen SB Moyo (below) addressed the nation after taking control of the state broadcaster.

It would appear that Robert Mugabe’s nearly four decade reign as President of Zimbabwe has finally come to a close.

The move comes one day after tanks were seen heading toward the capital. At first, everything seemed out of the ordinary, but not something that had the characteristics of a coup.

The Reuters correspondent for Southern Africa:



But now, it seems that with Robert Mugabe in detention and his wife out of the country. Meanwhile, their chief political rival,  former vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is reported to have returned to Zimbabwe from exile in South Africa.

It seems very much like this is the end of an era of African politics.

The move comes in the context of increasing tensions between the military and Robert Mugabe.

A political crisis erupted last week when Mugabe, who has been in power for 37 years, since independence, fired his vice-president, who many assumed was the favorite to succeed Mugabe when the time comes. Now, says The Independent, the sacking of the vice-president seems to have paved the way for Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe, to replace him.

The former vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is a veteran of Zimbabwe’s struggle for independence but, according to Al Jazeera, he was sacked for showing “traits of disloyalty.” Apparently there was something about the potential of Mnangagwa as a successor that Mugabe found threatening; perhaps because he would like to keep the presidency in the family. However Mugabe’s wife Grace did not fight in the war of independence, and the military leadership believes that any successor should be an independence fighter from the 1970s war of independence.

Mnangagwa is both a veteran of that war and a friend of the army chief, General Constantino Chiwenga. After Mnangagwa was fired, Chiwenga, as reported by Al Jazeera, told a press conference that “The current purging which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background must stop forthwith.”

Now, there appears to be some infighting in the ruling party ZANU-PF, between those who take the side of the military and those who are on the side of President Mugabe in general and in relation to the firing of the vice-president; and this has led to increasing tensions over the past week.

The army threatened to intervene if this “purge” of independence fighters continues, and on Tuesday the Youth League of ZANU-PF said they are prepared to die for Mugabe in the event the military intervenes. They purport to be defending the revolution by demonstrating loyalty to Mugabe. The opposition party have also made a statement in which they “called on people to defend the civilian rule in the country following the army’s threat,” Al Jazeera reports.

So it is understandable why there would be so many willing to believe that military tanks rolling into the capital earlier on Tuesday was the first sign of a coup. Taking into consideration the context of political crisis in which this is taking place, it was a potentially logical conclusion.

The situation continues to evolve rapidly. The political tension – and the dynamics created by contesting claims of the military and ZANU-PF to power and revolutionary authority – could indicate that a new split is emerging in Zimbabwean politics. Military coups and revolutions are not always bloody and violent (see here and here); and sometimes attempted military coups lead to more peaceful transitions.

What unfolds in Zimbabwe will depend in large part on how the parties react to each other and how those reactions escalate or de-escalate the situation. It seems pretty clear from the current divisions and the strong language coming from both the military and ZANU-PF, and the fact that both seem to be thinking more immediately about who will succeed Mugabe (elections are due to be held next year and Mugabe is 93 years old) that some dramatic changes are imminent.