In contrast to his elevated status on the continent, Mugabe is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power destroyed one of Africa’s most promising states.
The United States and Britain advised their citizens in Harare to stay indoors because of “political uncertainty.”
“U.S. citizens in Zimbabwe are encouraged to shelter in place until further notice,” the U.S. statement said. The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office statement told “nationals currently in Harare to remain safely at home or in their accommodation until the situation becomes clearer.”
The Southern African nation has been on edge since Monday when Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, said he was prepared to “step in” to end a purge of supporters of sacked vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Only a few months ago, Mnangagwa, a former security chief nicknamed “The Crocodile”, was favourite to succeed his life-long political patron but was ousted a week ago to pave the way for Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace to succeed him.
Chiwenga’s unprecedented statement represented a major escalation of the struggle to succeed Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabwe has known since it gained independence from Britain in 1980.
Mugabe chaired a weekly cabinet meeting in the capital yesterday, officials said, and afterwards ZANU-PF said it stood by the “primacy of politics over the gun” and accused Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct … meant to incite insurrection.”
The previous day, Chiwenga had made clear the army’s refusal to accept the removal of Mnangagwa – like the generals a veteran of Zimbabwe’s anti-colonial liberation war – and the presumed accession of Grace, once a secretary in the government typing pool.
Local government minister Saviour Kasukuwere, a leading figure in her relatively youthful ‘G40’ faction, refused to answer questions about the situation in Harare. “I‘m in a meeting,” he said, before hanging up shortly before midnight.
Army, police and government spokesmen refused to answer numerous phone calls asking for comment.
Neither Mugabe nor Grace have responded in public to Chiwenga’s remarks and state media did not publish his statement. The Herald newspaper posted some of the comments on its Twitter page but deleted them.
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