The streets of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare were eerily quiet on Wednesday morning but wartime songs were broadcast over state radio and TV stations, while soldiers stopped pedestrians and motorists to ask for identity documents, witnesses say.
Military armoured personnel carriers were parked at strategic points throughout the city – including government and police buildings -- and Harare International Airport, recently renamed Robert Gabriel Mugabe International Airport, has also been taken over by the military.
Zimbabwe's military has seized control of state television ZBC and said it is acting against “criminals” surrounding 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe. But a military spokesman has denied this is a coup despite rumours that Mugabe and his family are under house arrest.
Events have unfolded after the head of the defence forces, General Constantino Chiwenga, warned the army would take “drastic action” if factions in the ruling Zanu PF did not stop purges against party members with military backgrounds.
This followed last week’s sacking of war veteran Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa amid a struggle for party leadership with Mugabe’s wife Grace, who is supported by the youthful “G40” party faction. Mnangagwa fled to South Africa but is rumoured to have returned to Zimbabwe on Wednesday to take control of government.
All members of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces have had leave cancelled and have been ordered to report at their barracks with immediate effect. There is a heavy military presence at Mugabe’s offices, situated between Second and Fourth streets along Samora Machel Avenue. This presence also extends to the Defence House and Parliament government buildings near the President’s offices.
The Chikurubi Support Unit of Zimbabwe’s police force, which usually supports the Zanu PF youth league, has also been taken hostage by the military, witnesses say.
“Usually, the police support unit quickly rushes onto the streets and it was feared they would mobilise the youths and give them guns so they could fight back, but the military boxed them deep in the night and took over all strategic points there,” a witness said. “There is a secret armoury deep in the ground in the mountains there, and the army moved in quickly to secure it and make sure no one else has access to it.”
- African News Agency