MS Risk Blog

Coup in Zimbabwe

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Early on Wednesday, reports emerged that Zimbabwe’s military seized power, stating that it was targeting “criminals” around President Robert Mugabe – the only ruler the country has known in its 37 years of independence. The reports came after witnesses disclosed seeing tanks heading to the capital, Harare, on Tuesday 14 November.

On Wednesday, soldiers seized the state broadcaster, ZBC, and ordered staff to leave after the ruling ZANU-PF party accused the head of the military of treason, prompting speculation of a coup. Shortly afterwards, three explosions rocked the centre of the capital city. The incidents came just 24 hours after military chief General Constantion Chiwenga threatened to intervene to end a purge of his allies in ZANU-PF, with witnesses reporting seeing armoured personnel carriers on main roads around the capital, Harare. Armoured vehicles blocked roads to the main government offices, parliament and the courts in central Harare, while taxis ferried commuters to work nearby. The atmosphere in the capital city however remained calm. According to a government source, Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, a leading member of the ruling ZANU-PF party’s ‘G40’ faction, which is led by the president’s wife Grace Mugabe, had been detained by the military. The military has also disclosed that President Mugabe and his family were safe. A statement released by the South African presidency disclosed that President Mugabe himself spoke by telephone to the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, and told him he was confined to his home but was fine.  President Zuma, speaking on the behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), further expressed hope that there would be no constitutional changes of government in Zimbabwe as that would be contrary to both SADC and African Union (AU) positions. He urged Zimbabwe’s government and the military “to resolve the political impasse amicably.”

Both the United States and Britain have advised their citizens currently in Harare to remain indoors because of “political uncertainty.”

The coup comes after President Mugabe plunged Zimbabwe into a new political crisis earlier this month by dismissing his vice president and presumed successor Emmerson Mnangagwa. The generals that launched the coup believed that the move was aimed at clearing a path for Grace Mugabe to take over and announced on Monday 13 November that they were prepared to “step in” if purges of their allies did not end. On Television, Major General SB Moyo, Chief of Staff Logistics, has since stated “we are only targeting criminals around him (President Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” adding “as soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”


It currently remains unclear whether the apparent military coup will bring a formal end to President Mugabe’s rule, with the main goal of the generals appearing to be preventing the president’s 52-year-old wife Grace from succeeding him. What is clear is that whether he remains in office or not, the coup attempt is likely to end the total dominance of the country by President Mugabe.

While being once one of the continent’s most prosperous countries, Zimbabwe has been reduced to poverty by an economic crisis that many of the president’s opponents have long blamed on him. Furthermore, even many of President Mugabe’s loyal supporters over the decades had come to oppose the rise of his wife, who courted the powerful youth wing of the ruling party while alienating the military, which was led by President Mugabe’s former guerrilla comrades from the 1970s independence struggle.

Key figures in Zimbabwe

Below is a list of key figures in First Lady Grace Mugabe’s ‘G40’ political faction – the target of an overnight coup by the military. While the whereabouts of all of them are currently unknown, sources in Harare have reported that some are in detention.