Tanks and soldiers in Samora Machel Avenue in Harare. Picture: Kris von Urff-Kaufeld

Johannesburg – The situation in Zimbabwe remains extremely tense following the military takeover, with regional bloc the Southern African Development Community (SADC) due to hold an emergency meeting, and Zimbabweans wondering what the coming days and weeks will bring.

According to Reuters, what remains unclear is whether what appears to be a military coup in the southern African country will indeed bring about the end of President Robert Mugabe, 93, and the whereabouts of his politically ambitious wife Grace, who according to some sources has fled the country after her husband negotiated her departure.

Both Mugabe and his wife were placed under house arrest by the military and according to several news reports, the president, who has been in power since white-rule ended in 1980, was due to make a statement about handing over power in the next few days.

This next period is critical as South Africa’s defence and state security ministers, dispatched by President Jacob Zuma as regional envoys, hold talks with Mugabe and the military.

Zuma has also sent envoys to Angola to discuss the Zimbabwe crisis with Angolan President Joao Lourenco, who chairs the SADC Organ on Politics‚ Defence and Security.

The envoys' ultimate goal remains unclear but their trips have been described as “fact-finding” missions.

“The immediate concern is that the situation doesn’t escalate into all-out violence,” said Aditi Lalbahadur, the South African Institute of International Affairs’ (SAIIA) Foreign Policy Programme Manager.

“The short-to-medium term will result in a change of government, not necessarily of political parties but within Zanu-PF as it is clear that Grace Mugabe’s G40 faction are no longer in charge,” Lalbahadur told the African News Agency (ANA).

How peacefully this short term scenario plays out depends on the response of the Zanu-PF youth league, which supports the G40 faction.

The league has dared the military to take further action as threatened by the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Force (ZDF) Constantino Chiwenga who is behind the military take-over.

“The longer-term implication is how the new government faction will engage with the region, South Africa, the rest of the world, but most importantly Zimbabweans,” Lalbahadur explained.

As to how the SADC will deal with the issue also remains to be seen as the region is not accustomed to military coups, with the exception of Lesotho.

“South Africa isn’t interested in having to send troops to Zimbabwe and in general Pretoria, backed by Mozambique and Botswana, has tended to be more conciliatory in settling regional disputes,” said the foreign policy expert.

In contrast Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe have tended to be more militaristic.