HARARE, Zimbabwe — Residents along the streets of this capital city grappled with a new reality Wednesday after the military sidelined President Robert Mugabe, its leader for the past 37 years.
Once heralded for seizing power from British rule and the nation’s white elites, the 93-year-old’s tenure in recent years has been marked by human rights abuses and economic collapse in what was once one of the African continent’s most promising and prosperous nations.
“Mugabe was president since I was born,” said Kudakwashe Gore, 32, a mechanic. “He was spoiling his legacy by failing to pass on the baton.”
Military forces detained Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, and his wife, Grace Mugabe, 52, and placed them under house arrest early Wednesday after weeks of political tumult rocked the nation.
“I am excited that the Mugabe dictatorial era has come to an end,” said George Makoni, 37, a media advocacy officer at a non-governmental organization. “I am also afraid this political uncertainty could lead to anarchy and chaos if not properly managed.”
Tanks rolled down Harare’s boulevards and gunfire could be heard on the streets as the military seized government offices and state-run media outlets. But military officials insisted the actions didn’t constitute a coup, rather an effort to apprehend “criminals” who had ensnared the nation’s first family.
“As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy,” Major General Sibusiso Moyo announced in a televised address early Wednesday. He added the Mugabe family was “safe and sound and their security is guaranteed.”
The military had announced Monday it would “step in” to quell the turmoil within the president’s ruling party, the Zimbabwe African National Union — Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF.
The party had splintered into two competing factions amid discussions over who would succeed the Mugabe, drawing lines in the sand between Grace Mugabe and one of the nation’s two vice-presidents, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
President Mugabe fired Mnangagwa last week, accusing him of plotting to take over as leader. Mnangagwa, whose whereabouts were unclear Wednesday, fled the country citing threats to himself and his family.
Mnangagwa’s departure cleared the way for disciplinary action against 100 senior officials and his supporters, which in turn opened the door for Grace Mugabe to position herself as the party’s next leader and nation’s next president.
Now that the military has taken the Mugabe out of play, Mnangagwa could be reinstated and assume leadership.
“One can’t just read this as an army takeover,” said Teddy Brett, a professor of international development at the London School of Economics. “They’ve created a situation where they can move their man into position and hopefully turn Mugabe into a puppet who balances all the forces but doesn’t make decisions.”
Neighboring countries announced plans to send leaders to negotiate and encourage a peaceful transition of power. South African President Jacob 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. State Department asked the country’s leaders to exercise restraint, saying the Trump administration was “concerned by recent actions undertaken by Zimbabwe’s military forces.” The U.S. “does not take sides in matters of internal Zimbabwean politics and does not condone military intervention in political processes,” it said in a statement.
Many welcomed the move to neutralize the Mugabe and his wife, saying their exit would precipitate a new age of prosperity for this economically devastated southern African nation, where the currency has become virtually worthless.
“It opens a new chapter for me and my family,” said Norman Mpofu, 30, a teacher in Harare. “I can now plan for my future and my children.”
Others worried the military may not be so keen to embrace democracy and that officers could fall into infighting.
“This is not good at all,” said Hildar Zunga, 40, a housewife. “Once soldiers taste power, there will always be coups.”
Source: USA TODAY