Zimbabwe Military have taken control of the country’s airwaves amid high tension in the capital and reports of explosions and gunfire.
The army insist they are targeting “criminals around” Mugabe, who were “committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in order to bring them to justice”. The military spokesperson continued to say President Mugabe is safe.
Moyo said “as soon as they are done the situation will come to normalcy”. Insisting this was not a military takeover.
“We urge you to remain calm and limit unnecessary movement. However, we encourage those who are employed and those with essential business in the city to continue their normal activities as usual,” he said.
Moyo said the army had acted because the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation had been ordered not to broadcast a statement from the military on Monday and “the situation in our country has moved to another level”.
Cancelling all leave for members of the military, he urged the security forces to “cooperate for the good of our country”. He warned “any provocation will be met with an appropriate response”.
Following the speech, Zimbabwe’s military detained finance minister Ignatius Chombo. Chombo was a leading member of the so-called ‘G40’ faction of the ruling Zanu-PF party, led by Mugabe’s wife Grace that had been vying to succeed the 93-year-old president.
— Dewa Mavhinga (@dewamavhinga) November 15, 2017
The military statement followed hours of chaos in Harare, with witnesses reporting a number of loud explosions and armed forces assaulting passers-by.
The British government said that due to the “uncertain political situation” British nationals should remain at home.
Reuters said its reporter in the capital had encountered aggressive soldiers telling passing cars to keep moving through the darkness.
“Don’t try anything funny. Just go,” one said 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. Several ZBC workers were manhandled, two members of staff and a human rights activist told Reuers.
The extraordinary events happened hours after Zimbabwe’s government accused the head of the armed forces of “treasonable conduct” ratcheting up tension in the southern African nation.
Armed military vehicles had been seen driving through the capital earlier on Tuesday sparking rumours of a coup attempt just a day after the country’s military chief – flanked by other senior officers – warned that he was prepared to “step in” to end a turmoil in the ruling Zanu-PF party.
It remained unclear who ordered the military movement, which came amid an unprecedented challenge to the 93-year-old president from the country’s powerful armed forces.
Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabwe has known in 37 years of independence, shocked the country earlier this month when he sacked powerful vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Nicknamed “The Crocodile” from his time fighting in the country’s liberation wars, Mnangagwa has a strong support base among veterans and also from within the security establishment that he once ran.
He had been considered the mostly likely candidate to succeed Mugabe if the president decided to step down or died in office. Mnangagwa’s downfall and flight into exile was widely seen as paving the way for his arch rival, Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace, to take power instead.
Mugabe’s shock move caused widespread discontent among Mnangagwa’s supporters and exposed deep factional divides within Zanu-PF ranks. On Monday, Gen Constantine Chiwenga, the head of Zimbabwe’s military, called a press conference to warn that troops could intervene if long-term political allies continued to suffer.
“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,” Chiwenga said.
“The current purging, which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background, must stop forthwith,” Chiwenga said, in a statement read to reporters at a news conference packed with 90 senior officers from across key units in a show of military unity.
The statement was initially carried on state media, then entirely wiped from the airwaves, but the government was slow to respond, with no word from Mugabe himself.
After a weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday however, a statement was issued by Simon Khaya-Moyo, the government spokesman and national secretary for information and publicity, accusing Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct”.
“Such conduct stands unreservedly condemned not only in the party … but also in the [region] and the entire African continent where subversion of constitutional authority is … regarded as absolute anathema,” the statement read.
The lack of any word from Mugabe himself suggested the president might be on the back foot, however, said Piers Pigou, an expert on Zimbabwe with the International Crisis Group, who is based in neighbouring South Africa.
Mugabe’s failure to issue a clear statement reassuring supporters suggests he “is not in full control,” Pigou said.
“It is very unclear how this will play out and there is a certain amount of wishful thinking from those who would like to see Mugabe arrested or dragged off … but the president’s silence suggests he may not be in full control of the situation,” he added.
Mugabe’s authoritarian rule has been anchored by support from the military but the ageing leader has systematically dismissed veterans of the liberation struggle from party posts in recent years leaving the top echelons of Zanu-PF stacked with officials who did not fight in the independence war.
War veterans broke ranks with him in 2016 and have vowed to form a broad front with the opposition to challenge his long rule.
— Dewa Mavhinga (@dewamavhinga) November 15, 2017
Chris Mutsvangwa, the head of the war veterans’ group, told reporters in Johannesburg last week that Grace Mugabe was “a mad woman” who had won power through a “coup … by marriage certificate”.
The crisis comes at a time when Zimbabwe faces severe economic problems. The country is struggling to pay for imports due to a shortage of dollars, which has also caused acute cash shortages.