By Godfrey Marawanyika and Brian Latham | Bloomberg |
Zimbabwe armed forces commander Constantine Chiwenga called for an end to purges in President Robert Mugabe’s ruling party and said the security services would stop those “bent on hijacking the revolution,” signaling a split with the 93-year-old leader.
Chiwenga, speaking alongside the commanders of the army and air force, was commenting on the upheaval in the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front following Mugabe’s dismissal of Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, as vice president a week ago and his subsequent expulsion from the ruling party.
Mnangagwa, an ally of Chiwenga, fled the southern African nation on Dec. 8 because of “incessant threats” against him and his family.
“It is with humility and a heavy heart that we come before you to pronounce the indisputable reality that there is instability in Zanu-PF today and as a result anxiety in the country at large,” Chiwenga, 61, told reporters at the King George IV military barracks in the capital, Harare.
“We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in,” Chiwenga said in a statement read to reporters at the army headquarters.
“The current purging … targeting members of the party with a liberation background must stop forthwith.”
It is rare for the country’s defence forces to take sides in the affairs of ZANU-PF. When Joice Mujuru, a war veteran and Mugabe’s deputy of 10 years was sacked from the ruling party in 2014, the military remained quiet.
Mnangagwa’s ouster marked a dramatic shift in politics in Zimbabwe, where he had been a pillar of a military and security apparatus that helped Mugabe, 93, emerge as the nation’s leader after independence from the U.K. in 1980. He was Zimbabwe’s first national security minister.
“This is a new and potentially dangerous twist to the politics of the country,” Eldred Masunungure, a professor of political science at the University of Zimbabwe, said by phone. “It’s the toxic insertion of the military and will sour relations between the military and government.”
Mugabe has broken with most of his comrades who fought in the liberation war against the white-minority regime of Rhodesia, leaving the so-called Generation-40 faction of younger members of the ruling party championed by his wife, Grace Mugabe, 52, in the ascendancy.
“The current purging which is clearly targeting members of the party with liberation backgrounds must stop forthwith,” Chiwenga said.
Mnangagwa’s firing came amid growing tensions before elections next year when it may face a seven-party opposition coalition that’s capitalizing on public anger over cash shortages, crumbling infrastructure and a collapse in government services. The economy has halved in size since 2000.
The Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association condemned Mnangagwa’s dismissal last week and said it was breaking with the ruling party.
“We remain committed to protecting our legacy and those bent on hijacking the revolution will not be allowed to do so,” Chiwenga said.