Zimbabwe’s military seized control of the country’s state broadcaster and international airport Wednesday after detaining President Robert Mugabe and his wife, but denied staging a coup and said “normalcy” would soon return after it completed its “mission” of rooting out “criminals” who were targeting the nation’s longtime leader.
"It is not a military takeover of government," Maj. General Sibusiso Moyo said in a short statement read out on national TV. He gave assurances that Mugabe and his family were “safe and sound" and their security guaranteed. Moyo said that the people the military was targeting had caused "social and economic suffering."
Overnight, military vehicles were on patrol and gunfire could be heard in northern parts of the capital Harare — where Mugabe and some government officials live — the BBC reported. Reuters reported that Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo was also detained.
While the military insisted there was no coup, its actions appear to leave it in control.
South African President Jacob Zuma spoke with Mugabe, 93, over the phone Wednesday and said in a televised address soon afterward that he hoped Zimbabwe’s military would respect the constitution “so the situation will not go beyond the situation where it is now.”
He said Mugabe is “fine” but was confined to his home. Sky News reported that Grace Mugabe, 52, is believed to have left the country for Namibia.
Mugabe has ruled the country since independence from minority white rule in 1980. Last week, he fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, accusing him of plotting to take over from him. Mnangagwa, a veteran of the pre-independence liberation war and a former defense minister, fled to South Africa soon afterward.
Grace Mugabe has described Mnangagwa as a snake that "must be hit on the head” and called him a “coup plotter” soon before he was fired. The first lady is expected to be appointed vice president by the ruling Zanu-PF party in December and is the favorite to succeed her husband. Grace Mugabe and Mnangagwa’s factions within the party had been battling for dominance.
China, an ally of Mugabe's, said a visit by Zimbabwean army commander Gen. Constantino Chiwenga last week to Beijing was a “normal" and pre-planned "military exchange.”
Zuma's office said the South African defense and security ministers were being sent to meet with Mugabe and officials from Zimbabwe’s army.
The U.S. Embassy in Harare advised Americans “to shelter in place until further notice.”
It said Ambassador Harry K. Thomas, Jr. had advised embassy employees to stay home on Wednesday and U.S. government personnel have been told to work from home due to the “ongoing political uncertainty.”
Due to ongoing uncertainty in Zimbabwe, the U.S. Embassy in Harare will be minimally staffed and closed to the public on November 15. Embassy personnel will continue to monitor the situation closely. @StateDept— U.S. Embassy Harare (@usembassyharare) November 15, 2017
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