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Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe confined to home as army takes control – live

This article titled “Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe confined to home as army takes control – live” was written by Kevin Rawlinson (now) and Claire Phipps (earlier), for on Wednesday 15th November 2017 18.21 Asia/Kolkata

James Duddridge has asked Theresa May during prime minister’s questions what support the British government can provide to Zimbabweans to help the country’s recovery. May said the situation was still fluid and urged restraint on both sides. She called for the avoidance of violence, and said the primary concern was for British nationals in Zimbabwe. She advised any Britons in Harare to stay at home.


The EU, which first imposed sanctions against Zimbabwe in 2002 over its rights record, has called for a “peaceful resolution” to the crisis. An EC spokeswoman, Catherine Ray, said:

It is a matter of concern for the EU. We call on all the relevant players to move from confrontation to dialogue with the aim to a peaceful resolution.

We are following very closely what is happening on the ground, underlining that the fundamental rights for the citizens need to be respected and the constitutional order and democratic governance to be upheld.


The foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, says he wants to see stability in Zimbabwe.

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.

The shadow foreign secretary, Emily Thornberry, urged the UK government to continue providing assistance to British nationals in Zimbabwe.

Amid the uncertainty of these ongoing events, three things are clear: first, a descent into violence, recrimination and reprisals from any direction must be avoided at all costs; second, the continuation of authoritarian rule does not represent a sustainable way forward for Zimbabwe, no matter which faction ends up in control; and third, it must ultimately be for the Zimbabwean people to determine their own future government through free, peaceful and democratic elections.


Serious concerns have been expressed about a Twitter account being cited by some news outlets as an official Zanu-PF channel. The BBC, one of those to quote it, has apologised and issued a correction.


Grace Mugabe is abroad, it is claimed

Opposition sources are saying Grace Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s first lady, is in Namibia. The claim is unconfirmed, but seems to partially match reports in other outlets.


The full statement on the situation in Zimbabwe from the South African presidency reads:

President Jacob Zuma, in his capacity as chair of SADC (the Southern African Development Community), is sending special envoys to Zimbabwe and Angola in light of the unfolding situation in the Republic of Zimbabwe.

The president is sending the minister of defence and Military veterans, Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and the minister of state security, Adv Bongani Bongo, to Zimbabwe to meet Robert Mugabe and the Zimbabwean Defence Force.

President Zuma spoke to President Robert Mugabe earlier today, who indicated that he was confined to his home, but said that he was fine. South Africa is also in contact with the ZDF.

The special envoys will also be sent to the Republic of Angola to see President João Lourenço, chair of the SADC organ on politics, defence and security, to brief him on the situation.

President Zuma has reiterated his call for calm and restraint and for the ZDF to ensure that peace and stability are not undermined in Zimbabwe.

SADC will continue to monitor the situation closely.


Robert Mugabe should be removed as Zimbabwe’s president and first secretary of the ruling Zanu-PF party, the secretary-general of the country’s War Veterans Association, Victor Matemadanda, said on Wednesday.

According to the Reuters news agency, Matemadanda added that the military takeover of power was for the good of Zimbabwe.

A UK government minister will provide an update on the situation in Zimbabwe in response to an urgent question by the Labour MP, Kate Hoey, in the Commons this afternoon.


The British embassy in Harare has released a statement reiterating the Foreign Office’s updated travel advice for UK nationals in Zimbabwe.


Mugabe held at his home, says South African president

Robert Mugabe is confined to his home, but is in good health, according to Jacob Zuma, the South African president, who said he has spoken to his Zimbabwean counterpart.

Zuma, in his capacity as chair of the Southern African Development Community, said he was sending special envoys to Zimbabwe to meet Mugabe and the Zimbabwean Defence Force, which has seized power in Harare.


Robert Mugabe and his family remain in military detention in Zimbabwe, 12 hours after the military declared on national television that it had temporarily taken control of the country to “target criminals” around the head of state.

The move by the armed forces appears to have resolved a bitter battle to succeed the 93-year-old president, which had pitted his former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa against his wife, Grace Mugabe, 52.

Mnangagwa was reported to have returned to Zimbabwe this morning from South Africa, where he fled after being stripped of his office by Mugabe last week in an apparent attempt to clear Grace Mugabe’s path to power.

The military takeover comes two days after the army chief, flanked by other senior officers, warned he was prepared to “step in” to end the turmoil in the ruling Zanu-PF party.

It is likely to signal the departure from power of the world’s oldest leader within days, weeks or, at most, months.

Related: Mugabe family in detention after military takes control of Zimbabwe


Britain must support Zimbabwe in changing from the “nasty dictatorship” of Robert Mugabe to a democracy, if that is what its people want, a former Africa minister has told Press Association.

James Duddridge said the Zimbabwean president should be given a “soft landing” outside the country to allow a “less bloody” transition. But he stressed that any interim government must only be in place for a relatively brief period.

The Conservative MP, who was responsible for Zimbabwe at the Foreign Office between 2014 and 2016, said he would try to press Theresa May on the issue at prime minister’s questions today. But he said it would be inappropriate for the UK to support a coup.

I intend to try to catch the Speaker’s eye and raise a question at prime minister’s questions to ask what economic and physical support we can give, because the civil institutions of Zimbabwe have progressively over the past 40 years been ripped apart.

And I would hope that the UK has a plan to deal with this type of scenario to flood in extra political support, diplomatic support, but also crucially economic support to allow that country to prosper.

The British government should support the Zimbabwean people to bring the whole thing to a conclusion and chart a way forward.

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.


The Guardian’s Africa correspondent, Jason Burke, reports that one of Zimbabwe’s best-known activists, a pastor called Evan Marawire, has spoken to followers on social media.

Marawire has been jailed and prosecuted since launching the #thisflag movement last year, which led to major protests. He neither directly condemned nor condoned the military takeover. But he said developments were “the culmination of the work that citizens have been doing”.

He called on Zimbabwean citizens to “remain calm and hopeful, alert but prayerful, to support and encourage each other and to stay away from violence and lawlessness, from rumours and lies”, as the nation has “entered unprecedented waters”.

A correspondent in the capital, Harare, said parts of the city a little out from the centre, such as the registration offices where people receive driving licenses and other forms of official ID, had the usual crowds. Roads seemed no quieter than on a usual Wednesday afternoon.


Some news outlets have been relying on tweets posted by what is purporting to be the official Zanu-PF account, @Zanu_pf.

BBC News quoted the account on its website and on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Nick Robinson referred to it as the “Zanu-PF official Twitter account” as he quoted a series of its messages, albeit having noted that it was unclear who was in control of the account.

However, the account’s past activity has led many to wonder whether it is official.

As said earlier in this live blog, it is not unusual for Zimbabwean government accounts not to be verified by Twitter and it is sometimes difficult to get a clear idea of what is and is not a legitimate government outlet. But Zanu_pf’s informal delivery and apparent preoccupations with “hipsters” and sex suggest it is the latter.

The local title NewsDay reported in 2013 that it was a fake account and the identity of its owner was sought by genuine Zanu-PF officials. At about the same time, the respected South African title Daily Maverick called it fake. In 2012, the Atlantic magazine updated one of its articles in which it had cited the account, to say it now believed the profile not to be genuine.


Our correspondent in Harare quoted an official, who asked not to be named because of his job, as saying people in Zimbabwe are “excited because they are ready for change”.

“I don’t think [it] will get violent because they are doing this for the people, if they start shedding blood, [they] can’t do that any more. That is why they told people to stay away from [the] centre of town unless they have business, so troublemakers cannot stir things up,” he said.


The South African president, Jacob Zuma, speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community, has expressed concern at the infolding situation in Zimbabwe, calling for it to be resolved amicably, Reuters reports.

Zuma urged calm and restraint and expressed hope that there will be no coup in Zimbabwe, which would be in conflict with the positions of SADC and the African Union. He said the former would monitor the situation and stood ready to help resolve it.


The regional context is important. It appears that Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president Mugabe fired, entered South Africa last week and left today to return to Zimbabwe without impediment. This means Pretoria and the region in general are not unhappy with what is happening there.

Therefore, any transition that puts Mnangagwa in power will likely have the backing of neighbours, especially the biggest and richest ones.


Tweets from the unverified @YLZANUPF1 Twitter account, which are believed to come from the Zanu-PF youth league, strongly suggest this wing of the ruling party – widely considered to be the only faction that may be likely to take to the streets to defend Grace Mugabe and her allies – is falling into line with the military’s actions. That means violence is unlikely and Grace Mugabe and her associates are in a lot of trouble, to put it mildly.

It is not unusual for genuine Twitter accounts associated with the governance of Zimbabwe not to be verified by the social media site, though there are questions over who is in control of some of the accounts purporting to be such.

In another very important development, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president fired by Mugabe, is back in the country. He flew into Manyame airbase this morning. He’s always had a lot of support in the army and it’s very likely he’ll be taking over as the de facto head of government, with Mugabe, 93, as a figurehead.


A visit to China last week by the head of the Zimbabwean army, General Constantino Chiwenga, was entirely normal, Beijing has said as the military action in the southern African country unfolds.

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

Gen Chiwenga met the Chinese defence minister, Chang Wanquan, on Friday, where the latter expressed a willingness to promote relations with Zimbabwe.

The Chinese defence ministry showed a picture of the two men, both wearing military uniform, shaking hands, and another one of officers from both countries sitting opposite each other holding a meeting at the People’s Liberation Army headquarters in Beijing, Reuters reported.

Asked whether Chiwenga had briefed China on plans to seize power, Geng Shuang said:

I can only tell you that his visit to China this time was a normal military exchange mutually agreed upon by China and Zimbabwe. As a country that is friendly with Zimbabwe, we are paying close attention to developments of the situation in Zimbabwe.

Maintaining peaceful and stable development accords with the fundamental interests of Zimbabwe and regional countries, and is the common desire of the international community. We hope the relevant parties in Zimbabwe appropriately handle their internal matters.


British nationals warned: stay off the streets

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has updated its travel advice to British nationals this morning.

Due to the uncertain political situation in Harare, including reports of unusual military activity, we recommend British nationals currently in Harare to remain safely at home or in their accommodation until the situation becomes clearer. Please continue to monitor our travel advice and embassy social media accounts for updates.

You should avoid political activity, or activities that could be considered political, including political discussions in public places and criticism of the president. You should avoid all demonstrations and rallies. The authorities have sometimes used force to suppress demonstrations.

People queue to withdraw money outside a bank in Harare.
Photograph: Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters


The national police force has recalled all officers on leave, Associated Press reports. A senior police official, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the press, said all officers have been ordered to return to their posts immediately.


Only at the president’s office in central Harare is there an indication of dramatic change. A soldier is stationed at nearby junctions turning traffic away, a correspondent in Harare reports.

A soldier stands guard where military tanks have sealed off a main road to the presidential office.
Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


“Although a little bit scary, I think this is good for us. It has been a long time, we are going through a lot of hardships,” a fruit and vegetable seller in downtown Harare tells the Guardian’s correspondent.

Samaz said he had worked his whole life in a job he did not want to stay in because there was nothing better for him. “My beard is grey and I am still in the street,” he says.

He adds that there are many fewer people than usual in the streets of the capital. He was surprised by the morning’s news, which he found out when he headed into town in and was told about a “no-go area”.

People walk in a market in the Zimbabwean capital Harare.
Photograph: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images


Our correspondent in Harare reports that the centre of the city seems almost disconcertingly normal. If there were troops near Zimbabwe house and State house, they have gone. There are a handful of troops in the yellow berets of the presidential guard milling around outside their downtown barracks, but no signs of extra activity or army (red berets) guarding or constraining them. Even the newspapers, published too late to reflect the night’s turmoil, give no sense of what happened in billboards or front pages.


What we know so far

  • Zimbabwean defence forces have seized control of the state broadcaster ZBC overnight, screening a statement declaring that it is “targeting criminals” around the president, Robert Mugabe.
  • Mugabe and his family are “safe and sound”, said the army spokesman Maj Gen SB Moyo said. Mugabe has not appeared in public or issued a statement. It is unclear whether he is in military custody.
  • In a statement broadcast overnight, Moyo insisted:

We wish to make this abundantly clear this is not a military takeover of government. What the Zimbabwe defence forces is doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in violent conflict.

  • But the statement made it clear the army had acted in response to a purge of Zanu-PF members, including the vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was sacked by Mugabe last week, and had been angered by the failure of state media to report on a warning issued by the army chief, Gen Constantine Chiwenga, on Monday:

The situation in our country has moved to another level … To members of the Zimbabwe defence forces, all leave is cancelled and you are all to return to your barracks with immediate effect …

Let it be clear we intend to address the human security threats in our country. Therefore, any provocation will be met with an appropriate response.

  • Armoured vehicles and troops have on Wednesday morning blocked roads in central Harare around government buildings and the presidential residence.
  • There are reports that at least one minister, Ignatius Chombo, who holds the finance brief, has been detained by the military.
  • Chombo is a leading member of the G40 faction of the ruling Zanu-PF party, led by Mugabe’s wife, Grace, who is vying to succeed the 93-year-old president. This faction is believed to be the target of the military’s action.

Read our latest report here:

Related: Military urges calm in Zimbabwe after it seizes key sites in capital


Emmerson Mnangagwa, dismissed as vice-president last week in a move that was widely interpreted as clearing the way for the promotion of Grace Mugabe, is reported to have returned to Zimbabwe.


Is this a coup?

Observers will be asking if what is happening in Zimbabwe is a military takeover, or basically office politics that have run wildly out of control.

The answer is both.

It is fairly clear the armed forces have taken power in the former British colony – they control the state broadcaster, the streets of the capital and, most importantly, the personal residence of the head of state.

It is also fairly clear why they have acted now. This is a pre-emptive strike to stop Grace Mugabe, the president’s 53-year-old wife, and her clique taking pole position in the race to succeed the oldest living ruler in the world.

Robert Mugabe addressing party members earlier this month in support of Grace Mugabe becoming the party’s next vice-president.
Photograph: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images

The fortunes of the first lady have been rising in recent months, at the expense of the allies of the military within the ruling Zanu-PF party. The most obvious example is Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president and veteran of Zimbabwe’s liberation war who was fired unceremoniously last week, clearing the way for Grace to be appointed in his place.

But there are others who have been sidelined. Senior soldiers fear they will suffer if Grace and her associates take over. They also believe she will be corrupt, vindictive and incompetent, and know that the first lady’s violent outbursts and extravagance – as well as that of her entourage and sons – have already made her very unpopular.

The soldiers are also concerned about a further massive deterioration of the economy. Inflation and the collapse of the Zimbabwean currency has already impoverished many rank and file soldiers, and hit the incomes of officers too. The wages of the millions of government employees – troops, police, civil servants and others – often go unpaid for months on end. This means the seizure of power today will be greeted by many with relief, if not enthusiasm.

The course of events over the next few days is harder to see clearly. Whatever happens is likely to be chaotic and fast-moving – though it will be a surprise if there is any violent resistance to the takeover.

Once the dust settles, and the rise of Grace and her faction has been reversed, the soldiers will have to decide. Will they return power to the civilians – particularly the ageing head of state and commander-in-chief, Mugabe – or will the temptation to run the country themselves prove too great? Will they call back Mnangagwa to take power himself with Mugabe perhaps reduced to a figurehead?

Two key markers will be the annual convention of the Zanu-PF next month, and the elections next year. Observers will be looking for an early commitment from the military to allowing both to go ahead.

The opposition MDC party has said it wants to see a peaceful, constitutional “democratisation” of Zimbabwe following the army move, Reuters reports.

In a statement, the MDC says it urges the establishment of a stable, democratic and progressive nation state.

Chris Mutsvangwa, chairman of the Zimbabwe war veterans’ group, has praised the night’s events as a “bloodless correction of gross abuse of power” by members of Robert Mugabe’s government.

Mutsvangwa told the Associated Press he believed the army would return Zimbabwe to “genuine democracy” and make the country a “modern model nation.”

The war veterans are supporters of Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice-president who was fired Mugabe last week following a power struggle over succession with the president’s wife, Grace Mugabe.

The EU delegation has joined the embassies of the US and others in staying closed on Wednesday.

The military in Zimbabwe appears to have taken control of the country’s airwaves amid high tension in the capital and reports of explosions and gunfire.

After securing control of the state broadcaster, a military spokesman, Major General SB Moyo made a televised announcement early on Wednesday saying President Robert Mugabe and his family were “safe and sound and their security is guaranteed”.

He said the army was targeting “criminals around” Mugabe, who were “committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in order to bring them to justice”.

Insisting this was not a military takeover, Moyo said “as soon as they are done the situation will come to normalcy”.

“We urge you to remain calm and limit unnecessary movement. However, we encourage those who are employed and those with essential business in the city to continue their normal activities as usual,” he said.

Moyo said the army had acted because the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation had been ordered not to broadcast a statement from the military on Monday and “the situation in our country has moved to another level”.

Cancelling all leave for members of the military, he urged the security forces to “cooperate for the good of our country”. He warned “any provocation will be met with an appropriate response”.

Following the speech, Zimbabwe’s military detained finance minister Ignatius Chombo. 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.

The military statement followed hours of chaos in Harare, with witnesses reporting a number of loud explosions and armed forces assaulting passers-by.

Read the full report here:

Related: Zimbabwe: military takes control of state broadcaster in capital Harare, urges calm

Images from central Harare as morning breaks show tanks and troops on the streets around government buildings and the presidential residence.

Jolyon Ford, a Zimbabwean law academic at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, tells the Guardian:

There’s going to be people who say the generals have been wielding power since at least 2008 and now they are just overtly doing it.

I would say that is wrong: they were loyal to the president and he was their protector. So this is a very significant change.

To come in in this way, if they are united, is something quite new.

The military has no loyalty to Grace Mugabe at all and is threatened by her because her influence comes from a younger generation of Zanu party politicians who were not involved in the liberation struggle and have a different set of networks.

They are intervening because they fear another faction of the party – the wife and younger generation – is in the ascendancy. The senior-most military became very rich and they have a lot to lose if the regime changes.

In the hours before army spokesman Major General SB Moyo took to the state broadcaster to deliver the message, gunshots and explosions were heard in the streets of Harare. Some were heard close to the presidential residence in the north of the city:

Zimbabwe army spokesman Major General SB Moyo has addressed the nation after taking control of the state broadcaster. Moyo said President Mugabe was “safe and sound” and insisted the army was only targeting “criminals” around him.

The Canadian embassy in Zimbabwe has also advised people in the capital to “remain indoors” amid “increased military activity”, echoing guidance from the US and UK embassies.

Associated Press reports that veterans of the country’s liberation wars have backed the military action:

The Zimbabwe army’s takeover of the state broadcaster and action against some members of President Robert Mugabe’s government has been praised by the chairman of the Liberation War Veterans’ Association.

Chris Mutsvangwa, head of the war veterans’ group, issued a statement from Johannesburg praising army General Constantino Chiwenga for carrying out “a bloodless correction of gross abuse of power”.

The statement said the army will return Zimbabwe to “genuine democracy”.

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

Mnangagwa, nicknamed “the Crocodile”, himself fought in the liberation wars, and had been considered the mostly likely candidate to succeed Mugabe before his sacking last week.

The Guardian’s Africa correspondent Jason Burke says the night’s events indicate moves are underway to block Grace Mugabe and the G40 faction:

Reuters reports from Harare that soldiers and armoured vehicles have blocked access to government offices, the parliament building and the courts.

The Guardian has not yet been able to independently verify this.

As Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director of Human Rights Watch, notes, Wednesday morning’s Zimbabwean newspapers are already out of date:

He adds:

“Chiwenga statement” would appear to refer to the warning issued by army chief Constantino Chiwenga on Monday – which was not carried by ZBC, the state broadcaster at the time – that troops would intervene if the purge of Zanu-PF officials did not halt.

Related: Zimbabwe army chief warns military could ‘step in’ over party purge

Ignatius Chombo, the finance minister reportedly detained by the army overnight, is a prominent member of the G40 faction within the ruling Zanu-PF party. This faction, fronted by Grace Mugabe, wife of the president, opposed Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president sacked by Robert Mugabe last week.

Some observers say this action by the military could be an attempt to curb the influence of the G40 and particularly of Grace Mugabe and her ambitions for the presidency.

Reuters reports, citing an unnamed government source, that finance minister Ignatius Chombo is among those detained by the army.

Chombo, formerly home affairs minister, was moved to the finance role in October.

You can read the full statement from the military – issued after troops took over state broadcaster ZBC – here:

Related: ‘The situation has moved to another level’: Zimbabwe army statement in full

There has so far been no statement or appearance from Robert Mugabe – it’s currently just after 6am in Harare.

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Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe confined to home as army takes control – live


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