Updated at 10:55 p.m. ET
Loud explosions have been heard in Zimbabwe’s capital and armored vehicles are reportedly patrolling the streets of Harare, after the governing party accused the army chief of “treasonable conduct” and inciting insurrection.
Soldiers are reported to have taken over the headquarters of the national broadcaster, ZBC. The Associated Press reports that an army spokesman said in a broadcast that ” ‘this is not a military takeover.”
“It was not clear where [President Robert] Mugabe and his wife were early Wednesday. ‘Their security is guaranteed,’ the army statement said. The president reportedly attended a weekly Cabinet meeting Tuesday.”
AP quotes the military spokesman as saying the president is “safe and sound” and the “army is targeting criminals around him,” but “any provocation ‘will be met with an appropriate response.'”
Mugabe’s governing ZANU-PF party issued a stiff warning to the army commander, Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, saying Zimbabwe would not succumb to military pressure. Chiwenga made an unprecedented announcement Monday that the army was prepared to intervene to halt party infighting and the purging of veterans who fought Zimbabwe’s independence war.
Chiwenga made the statement a week after Mugabe fired longtime vice president and war vet Emmerson Mnangagwa, accusing him of disloyalty and disrespect. Mnangagwa had been tipped as a likely successor to the 93-year-old leader, but fell out with the president’s powerful wife. His removal is widely perceived as a prelude to Mugabe possibly promoting the politically ambitious first lady, Grace Mugabe, to one of two vice presidential posts.
The U.S. embassy closed to the public and encouraged citizens to shelter in place, citing “the ongoing political uncertainty through the night.” The British embassy issued a similar warning, and noted “reports of unusual military activity.”
For the first time since independence 37 years ago, Zimbabwe is witnessing a very public rift between the military and Mugabe. He is the world’s oldest head-of-state, who’s been in office since the end of white minority rule in 1980, with the military perceived as a pillar of his power. Mugabe is widely viewed as a political survivor, but the battle to succeed him has turned toxic, and the latest casualty is Mnangagwa.