Zimbabwe’s ruling party is accusing the country’s army commander of “treasonable conduct” for his threat to have the military step in and calm political turmoil.
The statement issued Tuesday night said the unprecedented comments made a day earlier by army commander Constantino Chiwenga were “clearly calculated to disturb national peace and stability” and were “meant to incite insurrection.”
The statement came hours after The Associated Press saw three armoured personnel carriers with several soldiers in a convoy on a road heading toward an army barracks just outside the capital, Harare.
While it is routine for armoured personnel carriers to move along that route, the timing heightened unease in this southern African country that for the first time is seeing an open rift between the military and 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe. The military has been a key pillar of Mugabe’s power since independence from white minority rule in 1980.
Mugabe last week fired Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa and accused him of plotting to take power. Over 100 senior officials allegedly backing Mnangagwa have been listed for disciplinary measures by a faction associated with Mugabe’s wife.
Grace Mugabe, whose political profile has risen in the past few years, now appears positioned to replace Mnangagwa, leading many in Zimbabwe to suspect that she could succeed her husband as president.
On Monday, Chiwenga demanded the purges against senior ruling ZANU-PF party officials linked to the 1970s liberation war should end “forthwith.”
“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,” the army commander said.
The ruling party’s youth league, aligned to Grace Mugabe, earlier Tuesday criticized the army commander’s statement, saying youth were “ready to die for Mugabe.”
Mugabe in the past has warned military commanders from interfering in ZANU-PF succession politics. “Politics shall always lead the gun, and not the gun politics. Otherwise it will be a coup,” he told supporters in July.
Frustration has been growing in once-prosperous Zimbabwe as the economy has collapsed under Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state. Grace Mugabe’s penchant for lavish spending has come under criticism amid the economic woes.
The country was also shaken last year by the biggest anti-government protests in a decade, and Mugabe’s appointment of a minister for cybersecurity last month was criticized by activists as a crackdown on social media users.
State broadcaster Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation was operating as usual on Tuesday, and the capital remained outwardly calm, despite the army vehicle presence.