Zimbabwe’s bloodless coup d’etat this week is a delicate powder keg which may explode, plunging the nation into a dark abyss from which it may never return.
The military, which seized power on Tuesday, has been at pains to explain that a civilian government, under the leadership of 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe, is still in charge of the country.
Army chiefs said they were targeting the “G40 criminals” surrounding Mugabe.
The G40 is believed to be an outfit of younger Zanu-PF politicians who orchestrated the deposing of former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa both from government and from the party.
But with Mugabe and higher education and local government ministers Professor Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kusukuwere – who are believed to be the brains behind the G40 – under house arrest in the president’s mansion in Burrowdale, nothing could be further from the truth.
A senior news executive in the capital Harare, who has close connections to the ruling elite, told City Press that it was obvious why the military would not want to characterise their actions as a coup.
“It is obvious that it is a coup. Why place the president under house arrest if it is not a coup? They simply cannot afford to have this characterised as a coup because the minute the whole thing is branded as such, Zimbabwe will be suspended from both the regional and continental bodies, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU).”
If this happened, Zimbabwe’s borders with South Africa and Mozambique, which are the country’s biggest trading partners, will be shut down and no fuel, electricity or anything will be allowed into Zimbabwe, he said.
“That could heighten our crisis which has been in existence for two decades,” he said, adding should the word coup be accepted, the entire world would also reject whatever government that takes over in Harare.
The AU has already said what happened in Zimbabwe “seems” like a coup. The army chiefs, who are currently negotiating an exit package with Mugabe also face a different dilemma.
The news executive further said Mugabe on Thursday morning told his envoys to tell the military that before he enters into any negotiations with them, they must give him an undertaking that they acknowledge that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land, that he is the president of Zimbabwe, and that he was democratically elected.
“This places the military in a cul-de-sac. If they accept any of these, it simply means all their actions are illegal and amount to treason. The problem is that while they can easily move into his mansion and have him arrested, they cannot do that without legitimising those who claim that their actions amount to a coup.”
It is for this reason, said the source, that while the army would have liked to storm Mugabe’s mansion and arrest Moyo and Kusukuwere, they simply cannot do it.
“If they do that, everyone will scream ‘coup’, and the longer this lasts, the more it strengthens Mugabe’s hand.”
While Zimbabweans are reportedly happy about the coup, the deadlock between Mugabe and the army is a delicate minefield which should be navigated with great care. The situation has a potential to thrust the country over the cliff.