Explosions in Zimbabwe capital, troops seize state broadcaster

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe Picture: Reuters/Rogan Ward

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe Picture: Reuters/Rogan Ward

Published Nov 15, 2017


Harare - Several loud explosions echoed across central Harare on Wednesday after 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF party accused the head of the military of treason, prompting frenzied speculation of a coup, a Reuters witness said.

The reason for the blasts was not immediately apparent. 

Earlier troops deployed on the streets of the capital seized the state broadcaster.

Just 24 hours after military chief General Constantino

Chiwenga threatened to intervene to end a purge of his allies in

Mugabe's ZANU-PF, a Reuters reporter saw armoured personnel

carriers on main roads around the capital.

Aggressive soldiers told passing cars to keep moving through

the darkness. "Don't try anything funny. Just go," one barked at

Reuters 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


Instead of the usual ZBC 11pm news bulletin, music videos were played instead, according to reports.

Shortly afterwards, three explosions rocked the centre of

the southern African nation's capital, Reuters witnesses said.

Read more: Zanu PF calls #Zimbabwe army chief's criticism treason

The US ambassador in Zimbabwe has instructed all employees to remain home on Wednesday due to "ongoing political uncertainty," the embassy said in a statement on its website amid speculation about a coup.

"US citizens in Zimbabwe are encouraged to shelter in place until further notice," the statement said, adding the embassy would be closed to the public on Wednesday.

Despite the troops stationed at locations across Harare,

there was no word from the military as to the fate of Mugabe,

Zimbabwe's leader of the last 37 years and the self-styled

'Grand Old Man' of African politics.

In contrast to his elevated status on the continent, Mugabe

is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of

the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain

power destroyed one of Africa's most promising states.

In the only official word from the government, Isaac Moyo,

Zimbabwe's ambassador to neighbouring South Africa, earlier

dismissed talk of a coup, saying the government was "intact" and

blaming social media for spreading false information.

"There's nothing really happening. They are just social

media claims," Moyo told Reuters.

The Southern African nation has been on edge since Monday

when Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, said he

was prepared to "step in" to end a purge of supporters of sacked

vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Only a few months ago, Mnangagwa, a former security chief

nicknamed "The Crocodile", was favourite to succeed his

life-long political patron but was ousted a week ago to pave the

way for Mugabe's 52-year-old wife Grace to succeed him.

Chiwenga's unprecedented statement represented a major

escalation of the struggle to succeed Mugabe, the only leader

Zimbabwe has known since it gained independence from Britain in


Mugabe chaired a weekly cabinet meeting in the capital on

Tuesday, officials said, and afterwards ZANU-PF said it stood by

the "primacy of politics over the gun" and accused Chiwenga of

"treasonable conduct ... meant to incite insurrection."

The previous day, Chiwenga had made clear the army's refusal

to accept the removal of Mnangagwa - like the generals a veteran

of Zimbabwe's anti-colonial liberation war - and the presumed

accession of Grace, once a secretary in the government typing


Local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere, a leading

figure in her relatively youthful 'G40' faction, refused to

answer Reuters questions about the situation in Harare. "I'm in

a meeting," he said, before hanging up shortly before midnight.

Army, police and government spokesmen refused to answer

numerous phone calls asking for comment.

Neither Mugabe nor Grace have responded in public to

Chiwenga's remarks and state media did not publish his

statement. The Herald newspaper posted some of the comments on

its Twitter page but deleted them.

The head of ZANU-PF's youth wing, which openly backs Grace,

accused the army chief of subverting the constitution.

"Defending the revolution and our leader and president is an

ideal we live for and if need be it is a principle we are

prepared to die for," Youth League leader Kudzai Chipanga said

at the party's headquarters in Harare.

Grace Mugabe's rise has brought her into conflict with the

independence-era war veterans, who enjoyed privileged status in

Zimbabwe until the last two years when they spearheaded

criticism of Mugabe's handling of the economy.

In the last year, a chronic absence of dollars has led to

long queues outside banks and an economic and financial collapse

that many fear will rival the meltdown of 2007-2008, when

inflation topped out at 500 billion percent.

Imported goods are running out and economists say that, by

some measures, inflation is now at 50 percent a month.

According to a trove of intelligence documents reviewed by

Reuters this year, Mnangagwa has been planning to revitalise the

economy by bringing back thousands of white farmers kicked off

their land nearly two decades ago and patching up relations with

the likes of the World Bank and IMF.

Whatever the outcome, analysts said the military would want

to present their move as something other than a full-blown coup

to avoid criticism from an Africa keen to leave behind the Cold

War continental stereotype of generals being the final arbiters

of political power.

"A military coup is the nuclear option," said Alex Magaisa,

a UK-based Zimbabwean academic. "A coup would be a very hard

sell at home and in the international community. They will want

to avoid that." 


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