South African President Jacob Zuma has said that his Zimbabwean counterpart, Robert Mugabe is under house arrest in his country after the military appeared to have taken control.
“President Zuma spoke to President Robert Mugabe earlier today who indicated that he was confined to his home but said that he was fine,” the South African government said in a statement released on Wednesday.
According to the statement, South Africa will send special envoys to Zimbabwe to meet with President Mugabe and the military.
“President Jacob Zuma, in his capacity as Chair of the Southern African Development Community, is sending Special Envoys to Zimbabwe,” the South African government said in a statement.
The turmoil started when President Robert Mugabe attempted to impose his wife as his successor. It is believed that, this pushed the military to intervene, throwing the southern African country into turmoil.
First Lady Grace Mugabe had been on a collision course with the military, which she accused of trying to impose former Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa as her husband’s successor.
The president’s 52-year-old wife was due to be installed as Zanu-PF and country’s vice-president at the party’s extra ordinary congress scheduled for mid December.
Army commander General Constantino Chiwenga, a key ally of Mr Mnangagwa, had on Monday warned that the military may be forced to step in to stop the purges in the ruling party.
The situation took a dramatic turn the following day when army tanks started rolling into the capital Harare. After midnight, reports started emerging that several ministers linked to a Zanu-PF faction backing Mrs Mugabe, known as G40, had been arrested.
They include Finance minister Ignatius Chombo, who is also the Zanu-PF secretary for administration and Local Government minister, Saviour Kasukuwere and Higher Education minister Jonathan Moyo.
Prof Moyo, a Zanu-PF strategist, was publicly singled out by Gen Chiwenga as a foreign spy who was working to destroy the ruling party from within.
The outspoken minister prepared a dossier of Mr Mnangagwa’s alleged crimes that included corruption and attempted murder that were being used to push for the ousted VP’s exit.
According to the army statement announcing the unprecedented intervention, only ‘criminals’ surrounding President Mugabe were being targeted in the crackdown that was initially confined to Harare.
“Firstly, we wish to assure the nation that His Excellency, the President, of the Republic of Zimbabwe, head of state and government and commander in chief of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, Cde R.G Mugabe and his family are safe and sound and their security is guaranteed,” army spokesperson Major General Sibusiso Moyo said in a statement broadcast in the early hours of Wednesday.
“We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice. As soon as we have accomplished our mission we expect that the situation will return to normalcy,” he added.
The state broadcaster suspended normal programming. Songs inspired by the country’s liberation war were being played on television and radio channels most of the day.
It remained unclear who was in charge of the country on Wednesday as the military insisted that it would not interfere with government business amid reports that President Mugabe and his wife were under house arrest.
Mr Mnangagwa was viewed as President Mugabe’s successor until a dramatic fallout around July where the 93-year-old ruler and his wife began countrywide rallies during which they denounced him for being power hungry.
The former VP, who worked with President Mugabe for over 52 years, and was at one time the latter’s personal assistant, constantly denied the accusations until he was fired.
He escaped to South Africa where he issued a statement last week threatening to return in a few weeks to take over ‘the leavers of power”. Mr Mnangagwa was backed by Zimbabwe’s former liberation war fighters who last year demanded that President Mugabe must handover power to his deputy.
The demands by the former fighters angered the president, who spearheaded a purge against Mr Mnangagwa’s followers that would have culminated in mass expulsions at the party’s December extra ordinary congress.
Gen Chiwenga had said Zanu-PF’s squabbles over President Mugabe’s succession had paralysed the economy and was fast becoming a security threat. He had given the party an ultimatum to stop the purges and expel the alleged infiltrators.
Zanu-PF has been on the edge over the veteran ruler’s succession since 2014 when then Vice-President Joice Mujuru was expelled from government and the party for allegedly plotting against the president.
The 75-year-old Mnangagwa, who was backed by the military and had support from two Zanu-PF provinces, quickly established himself as a serious contender for the presidency.