Zimbabwe’s military has seized complete control of the country, taking over the state broadcaster ZBC and placing President Robert Mugabe under house arrest.
The takeover began on Tuesday, when tanks were deployed in the capital city of Harare. Soldiers quickly secured the airport and set up checkpoints around the city. Armored personnel carriers were sent to government buildings to facilitate the arrest of officials.
The military operation comes amid rumors that Mugabe had been planning to appoint his wife, “Gucci Grace,” as his successor after sacking Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
According to an army spokesman, the military’s actions are part of a broader operation to find and arrest “criminals” within the government who were causing “social and economic suffering.”
“To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government,” announced Major General Sibusiso Moyo on Wednesday morning. “As soon as we accomplish our mission we expect the situation to return to normalcy.”
President Jacob Zuma of neighboring South Africa has urged Zimbabwe’s Defense Forces to show restraint, adding that he has spoken with Mugabe and that he and his family are “safe.”
Others have praised the military for saving the country. “We salute the patriotic and gallant forces of the Zimbabwe [Defense Force] for once again coming to the decisive rescue of the nation,” says Chris Mutsvanga, Mnangagwa ally and leader of the influential Zimbabwe War Veterans’ Association. “The populace has long suffered under a self-saving dictatorship that had become an oligarch with dynastic delusions.”
Mugabe came into power in 1980 when Zimbabwe won its independence from Britain. At the time, Mugabe was celebrated as a liberator. As he started to fall from popularity, Mugabe turned to brutality and bribery to secure his position of power and extinguish political opposition.
“This House will remember the brutal litany of his 37 years in office,” says UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, “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 measured in the billions of percentage points, and forcing the abolition of the Zimbabwean dollar.”
Mugabe’s grip on power has not been affected by Western involvement or by a political uprising. The best case scenario for him now would be to retire with dignity.
“This is, fundamentally, an internal power struggle within Zanu-PF and whoever emerges victorious can expect a newly purged party to fall obediently into lines,” reports the BBC.
Mugabe’s biggest mistake was assuming he was still powerful enough to create a dynasty. Instead, his once-loyal colleague Emerson Mnangagwa is poised to take his place. “If so, many foreign governments are likely to give him the benefit of the doubt and hope he can rescue Zimbabwe from years of misrule.”
Editor: Mugabe’s brutality has been legendary. He is known to have killed tens of thousands of his own people, civilians, slaughtered without mercy. Perhaps the next government will be less murderous.