Zimbabwe Military Stand Off: This is what we know so far

Could not supply a better picture, but this is the entrance to ZBC taken around 00:20.
Could not supply a better picture, but this is the entrance to ZBC taken around 00:20.

Zimbabwe’s political situation has entered tense and unpredictable waters, territories the nation has never entered before. It has been brewing for a long time, largely because of a number of factors, included but not limited to President Mugabe’s refusal to deal with succession, his deliberate use of force in dealing with opponents, and lately his breaking of ranks with key institutions that kept him in power.

What has led to the escalation of tension however is three decisions he has made of late. One, his sacking of his long standing ally Emmerson Mnangagwa, his attempts to force his wife into position of Vice President and next President, as well as do away with the military.

Much of this known, and has been written about.

Over the few days, more specifically since the commander of the defense forces General Chiwenga returned, things have escalated. And this is what we know so far, what we have been told, and what we speculate is happening.

  • When the General returned from China, we are told he was informed through army intelligence that key members in government, and more specifically those aligned to his wife had been pushing the President to have the General arrested on arrival, just in case he chooses to support the ousted VP Mnangagwa.
  • We are told police toyed with the idea, but were told that army personnel were aware of this, and an act of brazen aggression like that would have drawn soldiers from the barracks in Cranborne (which is a stone throw away from the airport). The plot was abandoned.
  • Mugabe, though under the veil of his wife and party, and at times even with assistance of those he has eventually purged, has proven that he will not stop with the elimination of key opponents until his wife is in power. The firing of Mnangagwa, long thought to be untouchable raised alarm with the military leaders. The generals in the army then considered the axing of Mnangagwa as the high noon for them.
  • The generals (present when Chiwenga returned) in their entirety met with the Chiwenga the night he arrived and held discussions deep into the night. The next day they prepared a statement which they delivered and whose contents are widely known by now. Although they were visibly upset they chose to extend an olive branch to Mugabe by re-affirming their loyalty to him, and aiming warnings at key members of the faction that supports Mugabe’s wife, namely Ministers Moyo, Kasukuwere and Mnangagwa.
  • We were told Mugabe was in sixes and sevens on the evening of that press conference, and instead of seeing the olive branch instead felt bullied. Mugabe has never had to bow to anyone, unless it was temporary and only meant to deceive the person in ‘perceived’ power. Instead a press statement was prepared and given to Youth Leader Kudzai Chipanga to issue the day after. This was meant to call the army’s bluff.
  • The Generals were angered by the statement. In the statement released by Chiwenga, he mentioned ‘denigration of the military’ more than once. Secondly the threats to demonstrate against the army made the top brass angry.
  • A military insider we reached out yesterday and a general told us that the generals were done talking. Unlike previous opponents of Grace Mugabe and G40 faction behind her, the generals were ‘not interested in competing via press conferences and press statements’. They chose to respond in action. The report is here. 
  • Several things happened in the afternoon. Very confusing things. Largely because whilst certain actions were easily verifiable, the motive behind them, or the man calling the shots behind them were never clear. We knew very early that army personnel at the President’s house had increased, security tightened, and roads leading there manned or cordoned off. However, we were not sure if this was a coup on the way, or Mugabe’s intelligence acting in worry of one that might happen. Because all this happened without official reports, or statements, everyone relied on either eye witness accounts, or sources. At one point, armed soldiers, were deployed at the state broadcaster entrance, and movement in and out restricted. Insiders, including staffers at the broadcaster said the army had told them they are securing the place / cordoning it off. Presence increased at other centers too.
  • In that time several army vehicles, including tanks were spotted leaving Inkom Barracks outside Harare. Roads from Chinhoyi were closed briefly, and major arteries in and out Harare had police presence. Again, while we could see this, noone could understand why this was happening. We could not tell if it was a drill, a show of force, or a coup. Although a coup was considered ‘out of the question’ at the time.
  • Later, the ruling Zanu PF issued a statement calling the General treasonous basically and implying the army was not united. We wrote earlier before, that what was happening between Mugabe and the General was more like a game in Zimbabwe called nhombo. You can read it here. After the statement, we were also told that army presence had been part of a drill.
  • The claims of any army drill, while plausible, were quite puzzling. We routinely see army vehicles in the city. But never in that magnitude,  and the explanation that tanks were simply being transported to Presidential Barracks hardly inspired confidence. If anything it indicated that the barracks were either being cordoned off, or boosted with fire power in the case of trouble.
  • We managed to speak to a General, whose rank is respectable. He stated in no uncertain terms that the all the Generals were united, and the insinuation that they were not angered them. He maintained however, that they were done talking and would not compete on paper or anywhere. However, the language of respecting Mugabe as Commander in Chief was maintained. He also dismissed the view that it was a drill. He specifically told us that this was a response to the statement by the youth leader Chipanga.
  • Because they mentioned responding in action we remained on high alert. Then Norton Legislator Temba Mliswa wrote that the broadcaster had been taken over by the military. Respected journalists like Hopewell Chino’ono said the very same thing. Another staffer reiterated this. But given what had transpired. We chose to go there. Risky as that sounds in the dead of night.
  • At the Pockets Hill Studio, there were two soldiers and one policeman. The cop was sleeping. This was around 00:26
  • We left for Mbare studios, in a different suburb, and where soldiers had been stationed before, but had not really bothered anyone. It was dead quiet. One cop was at the gate fast asleep and we could only see his hat hanging. This was about 01:00.
  • As we left we began getting frantic calls from people in Harare West area. Different people with no connections, including elderly people who have no need to sensationalise anything and are not on social media. They all report loud explosions which had woken them up. We were also told of explosions close to ZBC.
  • We returned to ZBC and this time found all guards sleeping, cops and soldiers. We stayed around and then left.
  • In Harare West areas, which are close to the barracks where the tanks “went”, there were people standing outside gates, around gates, all wondering what is happening. Some said they thought it was thunder, but it was not drizzling nor raining at that specific time.
  • A respected friend of a colleague who lives along Lomagundi road confirmed counting at least 15 – 20 vehicles just before midnight driving past his house. People we interviewed at a service station along the way confirmed this, and estimated the vehicles to have been more than 30, and claimed it had begun around 23:30.
  • This is when we got reports from readers that AJ, AP, Reuters and other global agencies had picked up the story.

Clearly there were some explosions. This can be confirmed without doubt. More military vehicles were spotted well into the night, unlike those which were seen in the “afternoon” drill.

There is no suggestions or indications that the military generals, despite what was uttered in the statement, are in disagreement with Chiwenga. One source, close to Mugabe himself said there is outright tension between Mugabe and the generals, and none of them is ‘licking his feet’.

However, he denied a coup was underway. We do not believe if it was anyone would tell it to us, or any media anyway. But he was adamant that the army while tense, and upset with Mugabe, were more intent on Grace Mugabe and G40 being stopped immediately.

What is clear however is it is not child’s play anymore. We likened this to a game earlier, and one source called us offside and said the army is not a game and is not interested in games.

The same source has told us that there were indeed ‘skirmishes’ at Mugabe’s residence.

The challenge though now is, because of the sensitive manner of the tension and what it implies, it is difficult to state for fact what sources say as fact. Even if we corroborate three or more sources.

Politics can be a game of perceptions, and making shadows appear big. So different sources might state the same thing, but it remains open.

A very key and significant thing though which must be mentioned is the existence of a network of very key, powerful, strategic, and wealthy sympathisers of the axed Vice President. The network which has been working underground for a month claims their existence is what angered Mugabe.

It includes business people, political leaders from South Africa, UK, China, USA, India and Namibia. We interviewed them earlier, and are working on an article detailing their mandate and objectives, according to them. So the theory that Mnangagwa has no backing is not true. He certainly has more backing than people who have been fired previously.

However even they stressed they are not trying to initiate a coup and wanted to mount a legal challenge to bar Mnangagwa from being fired from the Central Committee and to push for an elective congress.

In our view, we don’t really know what is going on, and noone really does. But, by around 03:00 when we stopped driving up and down around ZBC it was quiet. If something is happening inside, the sure left the gates unmanned.

This may or may not mean much. Things have proved to be unpredictable the whole day today, and infact the whole week. (This is at at 03:55 when we wrote this – things are happening so fast, more could be up. We are a small site, and only about 5 in total, so going to different places and then sitting to write, while trying to verify stuff can slow us down)

We will try though to keep it rolling on social media.