Zimbabwe crisis: 'Moment of hope' as Robert Mugabe's iron grip on power evaporates - latest news

Peta Thornycroft

  • Soldiers patrol streets of Harare
  • Explosions rock Zimbabwe capital in early hours of morning
  • Military 'takes over state broadcaster'
  • Army says Mugabe is 'safe and security is guaranteed'
  • Moves come amid rift between Mugabe and military
  • Robert Mugabe profile: Legacy of a ruthless tyrant

The military has taken over Zimbabwe, placing President Robert Mugabe under house arrest and detaining senior government officials in what many are expecting to be the beginning of a transition of power.

Military officials denied carrying out a coup as they took over the state TV and broadcast a message insisting the president and his wife were “secure”, adding that they were targeting a ring of government plotters following a power struggle that saw the vice-president flee the country last week.

Jacob Zuma, the South African president, said he had spoken to Mr Mugabe by phone who told him he was “confined to his home but said that he was fine”.

"It is not a military takeover of government," an army spokesman said in a televised statement. "We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice. As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy."

Graphic: Zimbabwe crisis mapped

The address came hours after several loud explosions echoed across central Harare and troops seized the headquarters of the ZBC, Zimbabwe's state broadcaster.

Several cabinet ministers, including local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere and finance minister Ignatius Chombo, and Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwayo, were arrested. There was allegedly a brief gun fight outside Mr Chombo’s house. All three are part of the G40 faction of Zanu-PF which is loyal to Grace Mugabe, who was being lined up to take over from her husband after the vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa was fired last week.

Zimbabwe has just experienced its first coup. This type is called a guardian coup but whatever name it's a coup. pic.twitter.com/HdwRInxeci

— Chipo Dendere, PhD (@drDendere) November 15, 2017

Boris Johnson called for calm in a statement to the House of Commons in which he also criticised Mr Mugabe's legacy and suggested that a transition may provide a "moment of hope" for Zimbabweans.

Speculation had been mounting on Tuesday that a coup was under way against Mr Mugabe, after the head of the armed forces threatened to "step in" over the sacking of an influential vice president.

Gunfire erupted near Mr Mugabe's private residence in Harare in the early hours of Wednesday, residents living close to Mugabe's mansion in the suburb of Borrowdale said. Armed soldiers took positions at major buildings and routes.

Zimbabwe Army General Constantino Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, addresses a media conference held at the Zimbabwean Army Headquarters on November 13, 2017 in Harare Credit:  AFP

Two hours later, soldiers overran ZBC, a principal Mugabe mouthpiece, and ordered staff to leave. Shortly afterwards, three explosions rocked the centre of the southern African nation's capital, near the University of Zimbabwe campus, witnesses said.

Tensions have been building in Zimbabwe since Mr Mnangagwa, a powerful figure in the ruling Zanu-PF party, fled to South Africa last week after he was fired and was then stripped of his lifetime membership of the party.  The move was widely seen as part of a battle between Mr Mnangagwa and Mrs Mugabe, the first lady, over the presidential succession when Mr Mugabe dies or steps down.

Rumours were swirling ton Wednesday morning that Mr Mugabe and his wife have been offered safe passage to Singapore, but this could not be confirmed. Eddie Cross, an opposition MP in Zimbabwe, has told BBC News that he believes Grace Mugabe has crossed the border to Namibia.

South Africa urged neighbouring Zimbabwe to resist any "unconstitutional changes" of government, but stopped short of criticising the armed uprising. The African Union said it "seems like a coup" and called on the military to halt their actions and restore constitutional order.

Armoured personnel carriers are stationed at major junctions in Harare as residents attempt to continue with their daily lives under the spectre of an alleged coup Credit: AP

Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, said that while Britain must do its part to support peace, the transition represented "potentially a moment of hope".

He attacked the dictator's record and added: "Authoritarian rule, whether in Zimbabwe or anywhere else, should have no place in Africa... Elections are due to be held in the first half of next year. We will do all we can with our international partners to ensure this provides a genuine opportunity for all Zimbabweans to decide their future.”

Follow the latest news here. 

6:47PM

In 1980, Mugabe's future looked bright. How times have changed 

Colin Freeman writes: 

When the newly-elected President Robert Mugabe made his first victory speech in March 1980, many of the country's 300,000-strong white minority had already packed their bags. After years of fighting to overthrow white minority rule, the schoolteacher-turned rebel had finally achieved his vision of black majority government, and few expected magnanimity to those who now on the wrong side of history. 

To their surprise, the devotee of pan-Africanism and Marxism gave a speech that could have been written by fellow liberation fighter Nelson Mandela. "I urge you, whether you are black or white, to join me in a new pledge,” a besuited Mr Mugabe said. “To forget our grim past, forgive others and forget.”

Even more remarkable was that he seemed to mean it. Lieutenant-General Peter Walls, the last commander of Ian Smith's Rhodesian armed forces, was asked by Mr Mugabe to stay in his job to integrate rebel fighters into the new Zimbabwean national army. Promises to protect white property and pensions were initially kept. And while statues of Rhodesia's colonial founder, Cecil Rhodes, were removed and streets renamed after black activists, most of Mugabe's radical policies remained rhetoric rather than reality. Foreign investment continued to flow, and so too did aid cash, with Zimbabwean literacy rates shooting up to become the highest in Africa.

Read more here.

 

5:03PM

Our cartoonist's take...

Blower

 

4:27PM

Timeline

Mugabe timeline

 

4:26PM

African Union says Zimbabwe crisis 'seems like coup'

The head of the African Union has said the crisis "seems like a coup" and called on the military to halt their actions and restore constitutional order.

Alpha Conde, who is also Guinea's president, said the AU condemned the actions of top brass in the southern African nation as "clearly soldiers trying to take power by force".

"The African Union expresses its serious concern regarding the situation unfolding in Zimbabwe," a statement said, expressing support for the country's "legal institutions".

The African body further demanded "constitutional order to be restored immediately and calls on all stakeholders to show responsibility and restraint," it added.

2:51PM

South Africa keen not to be seen as meddling

South Africa has so far made a point of working through the Southern African Development Community regional bloc of states to avoid being seen as meddling in Zimbabwe's affairs.

“It helps South Africa avoid the charge of unilateralism and big brotherism in the region,” said Derek Matyszak, a senior research consultant in Harare with South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies.

What happens next in Zimbabwe, however, could have serious consequences for South Africa, which already hosts a large community of Zimbabweans who have fled their teetering economy.

Another economic crash in Zimbabwe “will cause a second wave of economic refugees into South Africa, because they have no choice,” said Mr Matyszak.

2:49PM

Coup is 'potentially a moment of hope,' says Boris Johnson

The foreign secretary has called for calm in Zimbabwe in a statement to the House of Commons.

However, he added: "Mugabe’s consuming ambitions was always to deny them that choice. And this House [pf Commons] will remember the brutal litany of his 37 years in office. The elections he rigged and stole; the murder and torture of his opponents; the illegal seizure of land leading to the worst hyper-inflation in recorded history.

"Authoritarian rule, whether in Zimbabwe or anywhere else, should have no place in Africa... Elections are due to be held in the first half of next year. We will do all we can with our international partners to ensure this provides a genuine opportunity for all Zimbabweans to decide their future.”

“I think this is potentially a moment of hope. Lots of people in this country will be looking at it in that sense.

"We must make sure we don't jump the gun, that we aren't premature, and that's why I've been cautious with the House today."

Theresa May said the government was monitoring the "fluid" situation closely.

12:43PM

Analysis: Don't expect the international community to kick up much of a fuss

Our senior foreign correspondent Roland Oliphant has been looking into the international relations ramifications of the potential fall of Robert Mugabe.

For every dictator who does not die in office, there eventually comes a point of no return - some unpredictable moment when one's iron grip on power evaporates overnight. 

Robert Mugabe has just passed that point.

The immediate question now seems to be how his retirement will be managed. 

There is immense respect for Robert Mugabe inside Zanu PF, and officials in the ruling party have told the Telegraph that the military will try to handle things with "dignity."

He may be sent into exile, or allowed to continue as a figure head president with little real power.  

The next question is how the international community will react. 

The African Union has a hardline policy of opposing the military coups that were once common across the continent, and as late as yesterday evening, the received wisdom among diplomats, analysts, and Zimbabwean businessmen was that the military wouldn't even dare taking things into their own hands. 

Zimbabwe is landlocked, and in such a fragile state economically that a blockade by South Africa, Zambia, and other neighbours could theoretically bring a junta to its knees in days. 

General Constantino Chiwenga appears to have called that bluff. 

For all their aversion to military interventions, Zimbabwe's neighbours have been increasingly worried by the country's ongoing economic collapse and the looming prospect of a messy transition when Mr Mugabe dies or retires. 

If the current military intervention does not descend into violence, it provides an opportunity for a relatively peaceful transition. 

It also installs a man - Emmerson Mnangagwa - who is well known to the political establishments in South Africa and Zambia, but also Britain, the former colonial power, and China, an increasingly influential player in Zimbabwe's economy. 

No government will risk endorsing what is in effect a military seizure of power. 

But as long as General Chiwenga maintains a veneer of constitutional respectability - by not declaring himself president, avoiding bloodshed, and allowing Mr Mugabe to retire quietly - don't expect the international community to kick up much of a fuss. 

It may be just the solution many were secretly hoping for. 

12:13PM

Police disarmed in Harare

There are reports that the army has disarmed police in Harare in a bid to take full control of security in Zimbabwe.

Fadzayi Mahere, who was hoping to stand in elections to become an MP took this picture today, claiming to show police being lined up in the street.

It is thought that the army is aligned with Emmerson Mnangagwa, the sacked vice-president, while the police are believed to be loyal to Grace Mugabe.

12:06PM

Boris Johnson wants stability

Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary has said: "It’s very fluid and it’s hard to say exactly how this will turn out. The most important point to make is that everybody wants to see a stable and successful Zimbabwe and I think we are really appealing for everybody to refrain from violence."

Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, said: "It must ultimately be for the Zimbabwean people to determine their own future government through free, peaceful and democratic elections."

12:03PM

Opposition call for Mugabe to step down

The Democratic Alliance, South Africa’s main opposition party, has called for Mr Mugabe to step down and for “free and fair” elections to be held immediately.

“The current instability in Zimbabwe must be a cause for concern for all African countries who stand for democracy on the continent,” DA party leader Mmusi Maimane said in a statement.

11:38AM

No sign of Mugabe

President Mugabe was due to address state television at 11am, it was thought.

The broadcast has not taken place, but we are monitoring state TV and will stream live video at the top of the page if we get it.

11:34AM

Where is Grace Mugabe?

Reports are circulating that President Mugabe's wife may have fled to Namibia.

Eddie Cross, an opposition MP in Zimbabwe, has told BBC News that he believes Grace Mugabe has crossed the border to the west.

Sky News were also told that Mrs Mugabe had been allowed to leave the country by the military last night as tensions grew over the apparent internal power struggle that had paved the way for her to take over as vice-president.

Mrs Mugabe is unlikely to choose South Africa for exile after facing allegations that she assaulted a model there earlier this year.

 

11:25AM

War veterans standing by military

The head of Zimbabwe's influential war veterans association says they stand with the army and that President Robert Mugabe should stand down as party leader of the ruling Zanu-PF.

Victor Matemadanda told reporters in Harare that the country has been sliding into a "state of chaos," adding that Zanu-PF should establish a commission of inquiry into Mugabe and why he decided to let his wife insult veterans and the armed forces.

11:16AM

Mugabe speech delayed

Mugabe was expected to address the nation at 11am but it appears to have been delayed.

We are monitoring state TV and will broadcast a live stream at the top of the page when we get it.

10:55AM

UK ambassador says military still on the streets

 

10:49AM

Zuma: 'Mugabe under house arrest but safe' 

President Robert Mugabe is under house arrest in Zimbabwe, South African President Jacob Zuma has said in a statement.

"President Zuma spoke to President Robert Mugabe earlier today who indicated that he was confined to his home but said that he was fine," the South African government said.

10:46AM

Mugabe to make speech

Robert Mugabe is due to address the nation in a live broadcast on state TV.

He is likely to clarify the situation after claims of a coup and suggestions that he is being held under house arrest with his wife Grace.

Watch his full address at the top of this article.

10:39AM

Former Africa minister says Britain must support transition

James Duddridge, the Conservative MP, who was responsible for Zimbabwe at the Foreign Office between 2014 and 2016, said Britain should support a smooth transition.

He said President Mugabe should be given a "soft landing" outside the country to allow a "less bloody" switch to a new government.

Mr Duddridge told the Press Association: "It is for the Zimbabwean people to chart a way forward, not Her Majesty's Government.

"But I think they are doing that, they will do that, and we will support them coming out of what has been a rather nasty dictatorship by one man to a slightly more functioning democracy, probably transitioning by a government of national unity.

"But it may very well be that we need to provide support in the transition to maintain stability - that is in the Zimbabwean people's interests, it is in the British national interest.

He added: "So I very much hope for a bloodless and peaceful transition from an autocratic dictator, who has served his time and needs to move on, to a more democratic, open nation state that will trade and prosper and start to rejuvenate the Zimbabwean people.

"There's always a concern when there's a transition of power but we must remember Mugabe is loved by many people around Africa as a revolutionary leader.

"But he's morphed from that into a rather distasteful dictator who has abused his position.

"Providing Mugabe with a soft landing outside of Zimbabwe which, whilst is distasteful given everything that he has done and has been done in his name, will allow for a less bloody transition."

9:56AM

South Africa urges Zimbabwe to resist "unconstitutional change"

South Africa has urged neighbouring Zimbabwe to resist any "unconstitutional changes" of government.

President Jacob Zuma wants Zimbabwe to resist "unconstitutional" change Credit: SUMAYA HISHAM/ REUTERS

President Jacob Zuma "has expressed hope that developments in Zimbabwe would not lead to unconstitutional changes of government," according to a statement released in Pretoria.

Zuma appealed for "the country to resolve the political impasse amicably and has urged the Zimbabwean defence force to ensure ... the maintenance of peace".

Millions of Zimbabweans have moved to South Africa to seek work and flee Mr Mugabe's regime.

9:28AM

Robert Mugabe: Legacy of a ruthless tyrant

Robert Mugabe's legacy as one of the most ruthless tyrants of modern times may be finally coming to an end.

His savage rule over Zimbabwe was dominated by murder, bloodshed, torture, persecution of political opponents, intimidation and vote-rigging on a grand scale.

Read our full profile of the Zimbabwean leader here.

9:21AM

Citizens scramble to banks to withdraw cash

Queues have formed outside banks in Harare as Zimbabweans scramble to withdraw their cash after military flooded the streets and reports of a coup spread.

Zimbabweans queue to withdraw money in Harare Credit: PHILIMON BULAWAYO/Reuters
Schoolchildren seen passing military officers stationed across the capital Credit: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Schoolchildren were also pictured on their way to class as armoured vehicles and military personnel patrolled the roads across the capital.

State radio has been replaying the military's announcement that President Mugabe is "secure". The recordings have been interspersed between patriotic songs from the independence period of the 1980s, according to BBC Monitoring.

8:01AM

China says Zimbabwe military chief's visit was normal visit

China has said that Zimbabwe military chief General Constantino Chiwenga's visit to the country last week was a normal military visit.

Mr Chiwenga threatened to "step in" over the sacking of Zimbabwe's vice president last week.

China is closely watching the situation in Zimbabwe and hopes that relevant parties can properly handle their internal affairs, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing this morning.

Rumours are swirling that Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace have been offered safe passage to Singapore, but this could not be confirmed. 

6:49AM

Opposition party calls for return to democracy

Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is calling for a peaceful return to constitutional democracy.

The MDC, the main political challenger to Mugabe's ZANU-PF party for the last two decades, also said it hoped the military intervention would lead to the "establishment of a stable, democratic and progressive nation state".

A military tank is seen with armed soldiers on the road leading to President Robert Mugabes office in Harare Credit: AP

 

5:54AM

'Bloodless correction'

The Associated press reports that Zimbabwe's war veterans' association has called the army's actions a "bloodless correction".

Chris Mutsvangwa, chairman of the war veterans' group, told  the AP in Johannesburg that Army General Constantino Chiwenga has carried out "a bloodless correction of gross abuse of power." Mutsvangwa said the army will return Zimbabwe to "genuine democracy" and make the country a "modern model nation."

Mutsvangwa and the war veterans are staunch allies of Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was fired from his post of vice president by Mugabe last week. 

5:34AM

Scenes in the capital

Reuters says Zimbabwean soldiers and armoured vehicles have blocked roads to the main government offices, parliament and the courts in central Harare.

Nearby, some Zimbabweans queued for cash outside banks while public taxis ferried commuters to work.

A military tank is seen with armed soldiers on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare on Wednesday morning Credit: AP
Armed soldiers search a vehicle on the road leading to President Robert Mugabe's office in Harare Credit: AP

4:55AM

Army statement in full

The televised statement made by Zimbabwe Major General SB Moyo, Chief of Staff Logistics:

"We wish to assure the nation that His Excellency the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, and commander in chief of Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Comrade RG Mugabe, and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed.

"We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.

"As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy. To the civil servants, as you are aware, there is a plan by the same people to influence the current purging that is taking place in the political sphere to the civil service. We are against that act of injustice and we intend to protect every one of you against that.

"To the judiciary, the measures underway are intended to assure that as an independent arm of the state you are able to exercise your independent authority without fear of being obstructed." 

4:25AM

Finance minister 'arrested'

Zimbabwe's military has detained Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, a government source told Reuters.

Chombo was a leading member of the so-called 'G40' faction of the ruling ZANU-PF party, led by Mugabe's wife Grace, that had been vying to succeed the 93-year-old president. 

4:04AM

Army's coup denial follows a trend

3:07AM

'A euphemism for house arrest'

Reporters and analysts have been trying to read between the lines after the rather ambiguous statement from the army. Here is some of the reaction.

2:39AM

Zimbabwe military officers say Mugabe is 'safe'

In a state TV address, Zimbabwe military officers say Mugabe is safe and criminals around him are beng targeted.

The Army encouraged people to remain calm, but avoid unnecessary movement

Zimbabwe has just experienced its first coup. This type is called a guardian coup but whatever name it's a coup. pic.twitter.com/HdwRInxeci

— Chipo Dendere, PhD (@drDendere) November 15, 2017

The full statement from the Zimbabwe Defense Forces.
[15 November 2017 (03:15 - 04:15)] pic.twitter.com/nfW59Oefvo

— �� (@iAmAugustine_) November 15, 2017

 

2:21AM

Army 'targeting criminals around Mugabe'

 

2:19AM

Soldiers read address on state broadcaster

1:59AM

British citizens urged to stay indoors

The UK embassy in Harare has urged British citizens to stay indoors during the 'uncertain situation'.

1:56AM

'Shots heard near Mugabe's residence'

A Harare resident has told AFP that  gunfire erupted near President Robert Mugabe's private residence.

"From the direction of his house, we heard about 30 or 40 shots fired over three or four minutes soon after 2:00 am," a resident who lives close to Mugabe's mansion in the suburb of Borrowdale told AFP.

1:29AM

Tanks remain on the streets of Harare

Armed Zimbabwean soldiers sit on top of a military tank in Harare in the early hours of Wednesday Credit: AP

Yet the capital is still mostly calm.

A street scene along Robert Mugabe road in Harare Credit: AP

1:05AM

Robert Mugabe - Zimbabwe's leader for 37 years

Robert Mugabe profile

12:51AM

Government staying quiet during tense day

The government has said little during the day as tensions mounted.

In the only official word from the government, Isaac Moyo, Zimbabwe's ambassador to neighbouring South Africa, earlier dismissed talk of a coup, telling Reuters that the government was "intact" and blaming social media for spreading false information.

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

12:25AM

US embassy closes for Wednesday

The US embassy in Harare says it will be closed on Wednesday due to "ongoing uncertainty in Zimbabwe" and is monitoring the situation. 

It has also reportedly advised US citizens to stay home and "shelter in place". 

12:18AM

Explosions were heard near University of Zimbabwe campus

The Associated Press reports that armed soldiers are assaulting passers-by in Harare, as well as soldiers loading ammunition near a group of four military vehicles.

It said the reported explosions could be heard near the University of Zimbabwe campus.

12:06AM

Soldiers 'in control of state broadcaster'

Reuters is reporting that soldiers have taken over the state broadcaster's offices. 

Military personnel took over the headquarters of Zimbabwe's ZBC state broadcaster in the early hours of Wednesday, two members of staff and a human rights worker said, compounding speculation of a coup.

Some ZBC members of staff were manhandled when soldiers occupied the premises, the sources said. However, staff were told they "should not worry" as the soldiers were merely there to protect the site, one source added.

12:01AM

Explosions heard in Harare

Reports are emerging of at least three explosions in Zimbabwe's capital Harare as military vehicles are seen in streets.

By using Yahoo you agree that Yahoo and partners may use Cookies for personalisation and other purposes