President Robert Mugabe remains under house arrest in Zimbabwe.
President Robert Mugabe remains under house arrest in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe coup: How Robert Mugabe’s violent reign ended

Zimbabwe's military has placed the country's long-serving president Robert Mugabe under house arrest in an apparent coup that has brought his brutal 37-year rule to an end.

The drama began on Monday after the army warned it was preparing to step in to end the turmoil plaguing the ruling Zanu-F party.

Two days later it followed through with its threat.

Analysts say the move appears to be the climax of a power struggle between liberation-era figures loyal to ousted vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa and forces faithful to First Lady Grace Mugabe, who is seen as vying to succeed her 93-year-old husband.

In a dramatic televised statement on Wednesday night, the country's military insisted it was not a coup.

However, reports out of the country suggest the events have all the hallmarks of exactly that.


The army said it has Mr Mugabe and his wife Grace in custody and said it was securing government offices and patrolling the capital's streets.

Military supporters praised the move as a "bloodless correction" insisting Mugabe was still the country's president.

In an address to the nation after taking control of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, an army spokesman said the military is targeting "criminals" around Mugabe.

He also sought to reassure the country that order will be restored.


Zimbabwe Major General Sibusiso Moyo read a statement at the ZBC broadcast studio in Harare where he said the country's military appeared to be in control of the country.

"Their security is guaranteed," the army spokesman said.

"We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover.

"We are only targeting criminals around (Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice."

The army said as soon as its mission is accomplished the situation will return to normalcy.


Mugabe has ruled Zimbabwe since 1980 and helped lead his country to independence.

However his rule has been marked by brutal repression of dissent, corruption and election vote-rigging and violence.

Rising from Prime Minister to become president, Mugabe was initially well regarded domestically and internationally.

Once known as the breadbasket of Africa for its produce and one of the continent's most prosperous nations, Mugabe has turned Zimbabwe into an economic basket case.

However that all began to change in 1993 when he instituted the Land Acquisition Act which saw the government force white farmers to give up their land for redistribution to black Zimbabweans, CNN reported.

That move sparked huge inflation and food shortages and plunged the country into turmoil.

With human rights in the spotlight and Mugabe's grip on power tightening, the country descended even further into economic chaos.

In 2001, Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations after its elections were found to be flawed and was marred by violence.


Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe said on Sunday she was willing to succeed her ageing husband Robert Mugabe. Picture: AP/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi
Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe said on Sunday she was willing to succeed her ageing husband Robert Mugabe. Picture: AP/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi

Mugabe sacked vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa last week, seemingly provoking the intervention of the military, which reportedly opposed Grace Mugabe's emergence as the likely next president.

The 52-year-old South African-born politician has been dubbed "Gucci Grace" for her expensive shopping trips and fashion while many across her country went hungry.

Ambitious and expressing an interest in running for the top job, she also has been a fierce defender of her husband, declaring that he could run as a "corpse" in next year's election and remain in power.

She had an affair with Mugabe that produced his first surviving children and married the president after his first wife died, the Associated Press reported.

Alex T Magaisa, a lecturer at Kent University and former aide to ex-Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told CNN she needed her husband to ensure she survived politically.

"Grace Mugabe without Robert Mugabe will not survive a single day politically," he said.

"But as long as Mugabe is there, she will do what she wishes."


Emmerson Mnangagwa has been a loyal supporter of Mugabe for years and was considered his powerful right-hand man.

Known has "Ngwenya" or the "Crocodile" due to his survival instincts and fighting skills displayed in the country's liberation wars, he has worked alongside Mugabe for four decades and was tipped to become the country's next leader.

In a shock move, Mnangagwa was accused of "disloyalty, disrespect, deceitfulness and unreliability," with Mugabe appearing to pave the way for his wife to succeed him.

The sacking led many in Zimbabwe to speculate the president's wife was being positioned to succeed her husband and take up the post of vice president at a ruling party conference next month.

Mnangagwa fled the country amid claims he has been threatened.

While his exact whereabouts is yet to be confirmed, The Guardian reported he has since returned to Zimbabwe from South Africa, where he fled last week after being stripped of his office.


South African president Jacob Zuma.
South African president Jacob Zuma. Contributed

The military has secured the airport, government offices, parliament and other key sites and the capital along with the rest of the country remains largely peaceful.

South African president Jacob Zuma said in a statement that he had spoken to Mugabe, who told him he was "confined" but "fine".

If the Mugabes are forced into exile, Singapore and Malvasia could both be potential destinations given they own property there, The Guardian reported.

Meanwhile UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on all sides in Zimbabwe to show "restraint".

Mr Guterres is monitoring the situation and "appeals for calm, nonviolence and restraint," said UN spokesman Farhan Haq.

Human rights group Amnesty International called on the military to ensure the safety of the country's people and allow the free flow of information.

Amnesty International's Regional Director for Southern Africa Deprose Muchena said the military takeover should not be used as an excuse to undermine Zimbabwe's international and regional human rights obligations and commitments.

"At this tense time, it is essential that the military ensure the safety and security of all people in Zimbabwe - regardless of their political allegiance - and refrain from any action that puts lives and human rights at risk," he said.

"Military officials must uphold human rights, including the right to liberty, freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. The free flow of information - through the media and social media - must be guaranteed."
- with wires

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