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#Zimbabwe army might try to stop Zanu-PF forcefully

by Financial Times
21 Nov 2017 at 11:31hrs | Views
Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu-PF said yesterday it would begin impeachment proceedings against President Robert Mugabe amid signs that a rift was opening up between the party and the generals who took over the country last week.

Members of Zanu-PF, who sacked Mr Mugabe as their party leader on Sunday, are determined to complete the job by driving the 93-year-old from office. They are believed to want to replace him with Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president whose sacking triggered the crisis that led to last week's military intervention.

After meeting yesterday, the party said it had instructed its chief whip to proceed with the impeachment proceedings, which are expected to begin today when parliament is scheduled to sit.

But contrary to common perception, the armed forces led by General Constanino Chiwenga, have not insisted that Mugabe step down.

"The generals want a smooth transition where they cleared of any semblance of treason and the president gets out in a dignified way," said an official familiar with the military's thinking.

If Zanu-PF persisted in taking matters into its own hands, the official said, it could lead to a confrontation between the army and the political party that has dominated the southern African country since independence in 1980.

"There's a possibility the army might try to stop Zanu-PF forcefully, and that might result in blood on the streets," the official said.

George Charamba, Mr Mugabe's spokesman, who attended talks between the president and the generals, also told the Financial Times that the armed forces were not seeking the ageing leader's resignation.

"They are not challenging the president's authority, they are not challeng-ing the president's role. They are seeking to reassert it without it having to be trammelled by these negative forces," Mr Charamba said.

He was alluding to what the military has described as "criminals" around the president - a reference to a younger generation of Zanu-PF leaders, led by Mr Mugabe's wife, Grace, who had gained influence over him in the run-up to the crisis. Adding to the volatile mix, in what has so far been an almost bloodless military intervention, a liberation war veterans' organisation is threatening to force Mr Mugabe out through a popular uprising.

"The army has now done its job and the people of Zimbabwe have taken up where the army have left off," Chris Mutsvangwa, chairman of the war veterans' association, said yesterday.

The ratcheting up of pressure on Mr Mugabe, who has ruled for 37 years and le has been under house arrest since last week, followed the president's live television address on Sunday in which w confounded the country by suggesting he would continue in office. Surrounded by generals, Mr Mugabe used flowery, convoluted language to say he would preside over next month's Zanu-PF congress, despite the fact the party had ousted him as its leader hours earlier.

Mr Mutsvangwa said there would soon be double the number of people on the streets as on Saturday, when hundreds of thousands poured into Harare in celebration of what they had assumed was Mr Mugabe's imminent departure.

This time, the crowds would not disperse until Mr Mugabe had gone, the war veterans' leader said. However, it is not clear what the armed forces' tolerance will be for an Arab Spring-type push to topple the president.

The demonstration on Saturday was organised with the military's explicit blessing - and even then it warned crowds not to get out of hand.

Mr Mutsvangwa said the army was now in "an invidious position". It either had to protect Mr Mugabe or side with the people who, he said, left to their own devices might even "lynch" the president. Soldiers "would not shoot the people of Zimbabwe", he said. The different priorities of the forces a play - army, Zanu-PF, the war veterans and people on the street - may be causing strains within the army, the official familiar with the armed forces' thinking said.

"The worrying development is now there's a growing mistrust between the senior command element and the junior mid-ranking officers," the official said, with junior officers more impatient to speed up the transition.

"Even if [Gen] Chiwenga were to order soldiers off the street, there's a likelihood some one-star general or other lower-ranking officer may seize the moment, to ensure that the coup is completed."

Simbi Mubako, an academic and member of Mr Mugabe's first cabinet after independence, said: "The wish of the military is that he should be allowed to go with dignity. Only if he persists, will things go against him more violently"

A sign that Zanu-PF believes it can control the process came when some members argued against a broad political coalition in a post Mugabe era.

Patrick Chinamasa, a former finance minister, said Zanu-PF had no need to reach out to the Movement for Demcratic Change, the mani opposition.

"We were correcting our own mess, we have the majority in parliament, we can expel the president alone," he said.

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Source - Financial Times