Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander Constantino Chiwenga addresses a Press conference at KGVI military barracks in the capital 13/11/2017. SOURCE: ANA

Zimbabwe awoke anxiously on Tuesday after the country's military chief warned the factions in the ruling Zanu PF to stop purging party members with a military background after last week’s sacking of the vice-president and media started speculating that a coup was on the cards.

Zimbabwe Defence Forces Commander Constantino Chiwenga, a political ally of Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, told a news conference on Monday afternoon that Zimbabwe was suffering “distress, trepidation and despondence”. The gathering was attended by the military generals.

Chiwenga said that President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu PF had been infiltrated by counter-revolutionaries who wanted to destroy it and that “drastic action” needed to be taken immediately. “The current purging and cleansing process in Zanu PF which so far is targeting mostly members associated with our liberation history is a serious cause for concern to us in the Defence Forces," he said.

“From a security point of view, we cannot ignore the experiences of countries such as Somalia, DRC, Central Africa Republic and many others in our region, where minor political differences degenerated into serious conflict that has decimated the social, political and economic security of ordinary people,” Chiwenga said, adding that Section 22 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe mandated the country’s defence forces to protect Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe -- whose economy has halved in size since 2000 amid cash shortages and collapsing infrastructure and services -- is witnessing increased polarisation within ZANU-PF over who will lead the party when 93-year-old Mugabe goes. International, regional and local news headlines on Tuesday speculated about an imminent military coup in the country. "Zimbabwe army chief warns military could 'step in' over party purge", reported UK's The Guardian, and "Zimbabwe’s generals tell Mugabe to stop purge or face coup", wrote The Times.

Mnangagwa’s sacking – he fled to South Africa after receiving death threats – boosts Mugabe’s wife Grace Mugabe, who is supported by the G40 faction of ZANU-PF. The faction is predominantly young and is criticised by Chiwenga for not fighting in the 1970s liberation war. Grace Mugabe did not fight in the liberation war.

Chiwenga's comments come after the G40 faction promised to purge all allies believed to be supporting the Lacoste faction, which is said to be sympathetic to Mnangagwa.

- African News Agency (ANA)