Zimbabwe Coup | Army Has Robert Mugabe in Custody and Seizes State TV

The decades-long rule of President Robert Mugabe appeared to be over Wednesday after Zimbabwe’s military took over state television to announce the autocrat and his wife were in custody.

Army chiefs told viewers that the 93-year-old — the world’s oldest head of state — and his family were “safe and sound” as tanks appeared on the streets of the capital, Harare.

Mugabe coup
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace on Aug. 26, 2017. | Pic: AARON UFUMELI /

The U.S. Embassy was closed to the public Wednesday and encouraged citizens to shelter in place, citing “the ongoing political uncertainty through the night.” The British Embassy issued a similar warning, citing “reports of unusual military activity.”

Neither Mugabe nor his wife Grace, who has been vying to succeed her husband as president and leader of the ruling ZANU-PF party, have been seen for several days. However, the military insisted there had not been a coup.

Their security is guaranteed,” Maj. Gen. Sibusiso Moyo said in a national address Wednesday after taking control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation. “We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover.”

“We are only targeting criminals around [Mugabe] who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” he continued. “As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”

Armed soldiers stationed themselves at key points in Harare Wednesday, while Zimbabweans formed long lines at banks to withdraw cash — a routine chore in a country plagued by economic crisis and hyper-inflation. Overnight, at least three explosions were heard.

Armed soldiers on the road leading to Mugabe’s office in Harare. | Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi / AP

It was not clear if the military planned to remove Mugabe, who has been in power since independence from white minority rule in 1980, but opposition lawmakers said the aging strongman’s departure was inevitable.

We knew that a day such as this one was on its way,” said Promise Mkwananzi, spokesman for opposition pressure group, Tajamuka, and a former leader of the Zimbabwe National Students Union. “It was only a matter of time.

He speculated that the military could rule Zimbabwe — “that is my pessimistic view” — but said it was more likely that army chiefs would install a pro-military leader such as Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was fired from his post of vice president by Mugabe last week.

They could even allow Mugabe “to continue as a figurehead president,” Mkwananzi said.

Army commander Constantino Chiwenga had threatened Monday to “step in” to calm political tensions. Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party responded by accusing the general of “treasonable conduct.” But now Chiwenga appears to be in control.

The military will return Zimbabwe to “genuine democracy” and make the country a “modern model nation,” Chris Mutsvangwa, chairman of the Zimbabwe war veterans’ association, told The Associated Press in Johannesburg.

Frustration has been growing in once-prosperous Zimbabwe as the economy collapses under Mugabe. The country was shaken last year by the biggest anti-government protests in a decade.

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