Tanks seen outside Harare after Zimbabwe army chief's coup threat

HARARE • Four tanks were seen heading towards Zimbabwe's capital Harare yesterday, witnesses said, a day after the head of the armed forces said he was prepared to "step in" to end a purge of supporters of ousted vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa.

A witness saw two other tanks parked beside the main road from Harare to Chinhoyi, about 20km from the city. One, which was pointed in the direction of the capital, had come off its tracks.

Soldiers at the scene refused to talk to Reuters. Earlier yesterday, the youth wing of Zimbabwe's ruling party accused the military chief of subverting the Constitution when he threatened to intervene after President Robert Mugabe plunged the country into crisis by sacking Mr Mnangagwa last week.

In an unprecedented step, the head of the armed forces, General Constantino Chiwenga, openly threatened to "step in" if the purge of war veterans did not stop.

"We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that, when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in," Gen Chiwenga said in a statement read to reporters at a news conference packed with the country's top brass on Monday.

Mr Mnangagwa, 75, a long-serving veteran of Zimbabwe's 1970s liberation wars, had been viewed as a likely successor to Mr Mugabe before the President fired him on Nov 6. Mr Mnangagwa, an ally of Gen Chiwenga, fled the southern African nation on Nov 8 because of "incessant threats" against him and his family.

His downfall appeared to pave the way for Mr Mugabe's wife Grace to succeed the 93-year-old President, the only leader Zimbabwe has known in 37 years of independence.

Neither the ZBC state broadcaster nor the government-run Herald daily covered the army chief's open threat to Mr Mugabe, prompting senior commanders to demand why his intervention went unreported. Speculation has been rife in Harare that Mr Mugabe could now remove Gen Chiwenga.

Mrs Grace Mugabe, 52, has developed a strong following in the powerful youth wing of the ruling ZANU-PF party. Her rise has brought her into conflict with the independence-era war veterans, who once enjoyed a privileged role in the ruling party under Mr Mugabe, but who have increasingly been banished from senior government and party roles in recent years.

The ZANU-PF's Youth League said in a statement that Gen Chiwenga would not be allowed to pick Zimbabwe's leaders.

"We will stand guard in defence of the revolution - like the people of Turkey last year who repelled rogue security forces from interfering with an elected government," it said.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2017, with the headline 'Tanks seen outside Harare after Zimbabwe army chief's coup threat'. Print Edition | Subscribe