Explosions rock Zimbabwe, troops take over broadcaster as coup fears intensify

Wednesday, 15 November 2017, 07:48:40 AM. Soldiers take over the headquarters of Zimbabwe's state broadcaster as explosions echo across the capital Harare.

Soldiers and army tanks are seen just outside the capital, Harare (Photo: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo) Video: Soldiers and army tanks are seen just outside the capital, Harare (Photo: Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo) (ABC News)

Soldiers have taken over the headquarters of Zimbabwe's state broadcaster as explosions echoed across the capital Harare, witnesses say, compounding speculation of a military coup against 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe.

Witnesses said several state broadcaster ZBC members of staff were manhandled in the early hours of the morning (local time) as the soldiers occupied the premises, while the source of the explosions was not immediately apparent.

The reports follow a tense evening after Zimbabwe's ruling party accused the head of the armed forces of treason as tanks and troops took up positions around the capital, escalating a "rupture" between Mr Mugabe and the military's top brass.

Less than 24 hours after military chief General Constantino Chiwenga threatened to intervene to end a government purge in the ruling party, reporters said last night they saw several armoured personnel carriers on major thoroughfares on the outskirts of the capital.

As darkness fell, soldiers were seen on the streets directing traffic and telling passing cars to keep moving through the night.

"Don't try anything funny. Just go," one soldier said on Harare Drive.

On Tuesday afternoon (local time), witnesses said they saw a number of tanks turn before reaching Harare, heading towards the Presidential Guard compound in a suburb called Dzivarasekwa on the outskirts of Harare.

A street scene along Robert Mugabe road in Harare. Photo: A street scene along Robert Mugabe road in Harare. (AP: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi))

The added presence of troops as night fell and civilians went home — including the movement of at least six armoured personnel carriers from a barracks north-west of Harare — further sparked rumours of a coup against Mr Mugabe, although there was still no evidence Mr Mugabe had been ousted.

Notably though, the lead item on the ZBC state broadcaster's evening news bulletin was an anti-military rally by the youth wing of Mr Mugabe's ZANU-PF party — however the channel then missed its usual 11:00pm (local time) bulletin, without providing an explanation.

'Treasonable conduct to incite insurrection'

Robert Mugabe wears a colourful jacket featuring photos on his own face as he speaks at an event and gestures with his hands. Photo: Robert Mugabe has been in power for all 37 years of Zimbabwe's independence. (AP: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

The Southern African nation has been on edge after in an unprecedented step on Monday, armed forces chief Constantino Chiwenga openly threatened to intervene in politics, a week after Mr Mugabe fired vice-president Emerson Mnangagwa, long seen as 93-year-old Mr Mugabe's likely successor.

"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," General Chiwenga said in a statement read to reporters at a news conference packed with top brass on Monday.

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe's wife Grace talks to Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Photo: Former VP Emerson Mnangagwa (right) was removed from office last week amid attacks from Grace Mugabe (left). (Reuters: Philimon Bulawayo, file)

Mr Mnangagwa, a veteran of Zimbabwe's 1970s liberation wars, was popular with the military, which viewed his removal as part of a purge of independence-era figures to pave the way for Mr Mugabe to hand power to his wife Grace, 52.

Yesterday Mr Mugabe, the only leader Zimbabwe has known in 37 years of independence, was chairing a weekly cabinet meeting in the capital.

However, witnesses say the capital still appeared calm overnight and there were no troops in the city on Tuesday as business continued normally.

But shortly after reports of tanks nearing the capital came through, Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party released a statement saying it would never succumb to military pressure.

In the statement, the ruling party said it stood by the "primacy of politics over the gun" and accused General Chiwenga of "treasonable conduct … meant to incite insurrection".

Zimbabwe's Army Commander Constantino Chiwenga addresses a press conference in Harare Photo: General Chiwenga addresses a press conference in Harare. (AP: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi, file)

A senior South African diplomat said Pretoria had scrambled its officials in Harare to try to find out what was going on, but at the moment they had little conclusive information.

'Rupture between Mugabe and armed forces'

Ms Mugabe has developed a strong following in the powerful youth wing of the ruling party.

Her rise has brought her into conflict with the independence-era war veterans, who once enjoyed a privileged role in the ruling party under Mr Mugabe, but who have increasingly been banished from senior government and party roles in recent years.

Neither the President nor his wife responded immediately to the general's remarks, but on Tuesday the head of ZANU-PF's youth wing accused the army chief of subverting the constitution.

Grace Mugabe raises her first as she addresses supporters. Photo: It's believed Robert Mugabe is trying to pave the way to hand power to his wife, Grace. (AP: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi)

"Defending the revolution and our leader and President is an ideal we live for and if need be it is a principle we are prepared to die for," Kudzai Chipanga, who leads the ZANU-PF Youth League, said at the party's headquarters in Harare.

The rising political tension in the southern African country comes at a time when it is struggling to pay for imports due to a dollar crunch, which has also caused acute cash shortages.

Zimbabwe's state media refrained from publishing General Chiwenga's statement.

The Herald newspaper, which had initially posted some of Mr Chiwenga's comments on its official Twitter page on Monday, deleted the posts without explanation.

Martin Rupiya, an expert on Zimbabwe military affairs at the University of South Africa in Pretoria, said the army appeared to be putting the squeeze on Mr Mugabe.

"There's a rupture between the executive and the armed forces," Mr Rupiya said.

Reuters

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