ZIMBABWEANS, long resigned to the inevitability of President Robert Mugabe’s seemingly interminable rule, woke up to the surreal promise of imminent change delivered by a most unlikely source the military.
True, many had retired on Tuesday wearied by a surfeit of social fuelled reports and images reports of unusual troop movements around Harare. But not many would have placed bets on waking up to news of a dramatic military intervention.
Those anticipating some drama had gone to bed deflated, after a reported late night press conference by the military did not materialise.
However, a pre-dawn televised address by major general Sibusiso Moyo sent tremors across the nation, and beyond, snapping drowsy Zimbabweans into the rude realisation that an event of seismic proportions had taken place.
Mugabe and his family, the expressionless general said, were “safe and sound and their security is guaranteed”.
The military was only targeting criminal elements around the president, he added.
“What the Zimbabwe Defence Forces is doing is to pacify a degenerating political‚ social and economic situation in our country which if not addressed may result in violent conflict,” Moyo said.
Normalcy would be restored once the military had completed its mission, he said.
But this was no coup.
“ We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government,” the statement said.
No coup. So what is it? Zimbabweans who woke up to the sight of armoured vehicles and army trucks blocking access to Parliament and Munhumutapa Building — which houses the president’s offices — wondered.
There was no smell of gunpowder in the air.
As the morning wore on, citizens could be seen walking past the deployed soldiers and their menacing ordnance and equipment. Life WAS going on, almost normally.
State radio and television was repeatedly playing war-time music, only interrupted by the hourly re-broadcast of the military’s statement.
The state-controlled Herald newspaper, which had led with ‘ZANU-PF unfazed by Chiwenga’ in the morning, put out a second edition late afternoon, recasting: ‘No military takeover’ with a file picture showing a beaming Chiwenga and three military chiefs in celebratory mood.
Major retail chains such as OK Zimbabwe, TM Pick n’ Pay, Choppies and other businesses were operating normally, but there was palpable tension and apprehension in the air as citizens pondered what the immediate future holds.
By the end of day yesterday, the heavy army presence on Harare streets had been scaled down as the uniformed forces moved their armoured vehicles to parking bays.
Amid the tension, the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association called for Mugabe’s ouster both from government and the ruling party.
The press conference room was packed to the rafters with both journalists and former liberation war freedom fighters.
The war veterans, once a key pillar on which Mugabe built his political power, urged individuals, businesses and “all the political parties in Zimbabwe to support a return to normalcy in the country and to avoid any violent inclinations”.
Time-line of events that have shaken Zimbabwe
ON November 15, 2017, Zimbabwe’s protracted political crisis escalated to unprecedented levels as the country’s military took effective control of government.
Below is a time-line of the fast-moving events of the past fortnight, which have culminated in this week’s seismic developments:
November 4: Addressing a rally in Bulawayo, President Robert Mugabe threatened to fire his Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa after his wife, Grace, was booed while delivering her speech.
“We are denigrated and insulted in the name of Mnangagwa. Did I make a mistake in appointing him as my deputy?” Mugabe asked.
“If I made a mistake by appointing Mnangagwa… tell me. I will drop him as early as tomorrow. We are not afraid of anyone. We can decide even here,” he said.
November 5: Addressing members of indigenous apostolic sects during the “Super Sunday” rally in Harare, Grace Mugabe said Mnangagwa and his lieutenants, accused of fanning divisions within Zanu-PF, must be expelled before the party’s Extraordinary Congress to be held in December.
“The snake must be hit on the head. We must deal with the real snake behind the factions and discord in the party. We are going for the Congress as a united party. Women who are involved in the Lacoste project, I say to you, ‘you are dead’. Chipanga, those youths who are aligned to Lacoste are gone. They must all be dropped before the Congress,” she said.
November 6: Mugabe dismisses Mnangagwa from government, accusing the former vice president of disloyalty.
“It had become evident that his conduct in the discharge of his duties had become inconsistent with his official responsibilities. The Vice President has consistently and persistently exhibited traits of disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability.
“He has also demonstrated little probity in the execution of his duties,” Information Minister Simon Khaya Moyo said in a statement announcing Mnangagwa’s axing.
November 8: Mnangagwa says he has fled into exile, fearing for his life, and vows to lead the charge to topple Mugabe in a matter of weeks.
“I will fight tooth and nail against those making a mockery against Zanu-PF founding principles, ethos and values,” he said
“You and your cohorts will instead leave Zanu-PF by the will of the people and this we will do in the coming few weeks as Zimbabweans in general now require new and progressive leadership that is not resident in the past and refuses to accept change,” Mnangagwa said in a five-page statement.
November 13: In an unprecedented statement by the military, which has staunchly supported Mugabe’s rule since independence, Army chief General Constantino Chiwenga warned the military would not hesitate to “step in” to quell the instability in the ruling party. The general also called on Mugabe to “stop” the purges of war veterans from the ruling ZANU-PF party.
“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 told journalists at Harare’s King George VI military headquarters in an unprecedented intervention.
November 14: ZANU-PF spokesperson Simon Khaya Moyo gives the party’s response to Chiwenga’s statement, describing the general’s comments as “treasonous” and “clearly calculated to disturb national peace and stability”.
November 15: Unsusual troop movements, including army trucks and armoured fighting vehicles (AVF), are reported in and around the capital.
November 16: The army takes control of state broadcaster, the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC). In an early morning broadcast, Major General Sibusiso Moyo announces that “the situation in our country has moved to another level.”
“Firstly‚ we wish to assure the nation that His Excellency‚ The President‚ of the Republic of Zimbabwe‚ Head of State and Government and Commander in Chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces‚ Cde R.G Mugabe and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed. 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.”