Days after he was fired and forced out of the country to avoid arrest, former Zimbabwe vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa vowed that he would not be ousted.
“I will go nowhere,” he said.
He issued a statement insisting he would return to take control of both the ruling party and the government.
“I will fight tooth and nail against those making a mockery of Zanu-PF’s founding principles, ethos and values.”
For months, reports of factional battles in Zanu-PF have dominated political discussions in Zimbabwe.
The race to succeed Robert Mugabe at the helm of the party has, however, torn the party asunder. Rallying behind his wife, Grace, has been the Zanu-PF “Generation 40” faction, or G40.
On the other end are supporters of Mnangagwa, the “Lacoste” faction — referring to the brand whose logo is a crocodile, which is Mnangagwa’s nickname.
Mnangagwa has been embroiled in a long-running feud with Grace that included a bizarre alleged ice cream poisoning incident. And when Mnangagwa was fired, Mugabe appeared to have anointed his wife his successor.
Mnangagwa, however, warned that a new leadership would emerge from the fracas —and that it would not include the Mugabes.
“You [Mugabe] and your cohorts will, instead, leave Zanu-PF by the will of the people and this we will do in the coming few weeks as Zimbabweans in general now require new and progressive leadership that is not resident in the past and refuses to accept change,” he said.
One week later, the army made its move.
Army chief General Constantino Chiwenga gave an unprecedented press conference on Monday, flanked by dozens of officers, warning Mugabe that he would intervene if the president continued to purge Zanu-PF of leaders like Mnangagwa.
By the early hours of Wednesday morning, the armed forces had taken over the state broadcaster, and army vehicles were stationed across the city.
During a telephone call, Mugabe told South African President Jacob Zuma that he was effectively under house arrest, but was unharmed.
Officials, however, continue to insist that this is not a coup.
At a briefing with diplomats later on Wednesday, Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Permanent Secretary Joey Bimha said the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) had intervened to ensure peace and order.
Major-General Sibusiso Moyo issued a televised statement announcing that the military was not subverting Mugabe’s government. He said the ZDF was merely intervening to restore order and “arrest criminals” around the president.
Moyo said Mugabe and his family were safe, adding that their safety was guaranteed.
Some diplomats, however, said army chiefs were frantically trying to conceal the “soft coup” as well as pacify the international community, who have voiced concerns about the situation in the country.
Negotiations at a stalemate
Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has called for a negotiated process to ease Zimbabwe through the transition of power, adding that Mugabe must step down.
Mugabe and envoys from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) held talks in Harare on Thursday. Apparently, Chiwenga had initially refused to meet with the two South African envoys, telling them to speak to Mugabe first.
By late Thursday afternoon, however, negotiations had made no progress, with Mugabe reportedly refusing to step down, insisting he should be allowed to complete his term in office.
Police vs the army
Central to the current stalemate is the mistrust in Zimbabwe’s security services, which intensified this week after the police reportedly attempted to arrest Chiwenga on his return from an official visit to China.
Armed soldiers assaulted police officers at the Parliament Building in Harare after the army intervened in the Zanu-PF crisis, effectively holding Mugabe hostage and arresting some ministers.
Security sources said professional relations between the police and the army have worsened in recent months, creating a rift between the various branches of the security services.
A picture of police officers seated on the tarmac in front of the Parliament Building went viral on social media on Wednesday. Sources and eyewitnesses said that some of the police stationed at Parliament were ordered to surrender to military rule and that other officers who were passing through the city centre were summoned by the soldiers and assaulted.
“Around five in the morning, I saw two officers in town who appeared to be heading to work. One was from the support unit. Soldiers then called them to Parliament and they were showered with claps for several hours. They joined other police officers who were frog-marching at Parliament,” an eyewitness said.
“To see police officers being treated like that really frightened me. I didn’t know whether civilians were still safe.”
A security services source told the Zimbabwe Independent that the tension between the police and army allegedly escalated when members of the Support Unit — a paramilitary wing of the police — attempted to arrest army chief Chiwenga after he arrived back from China over the weekend.
He was apparently rescued by members of the army’s presidential guard unit who had been deployed at the airport.
“Relations between the police and the army are not that good at the moment, save for Police Protection Unit officers at State House. Officers at Support Unit are at the receiving end now after they attempted to arrest the general,” a source said.
It is also understood that the military on Wednesday forcibly took control of the Support Unit camp and armoury at Chikurubi near Harare in an apparent show of strength.
The absence of police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri at army headquarters on Monday, when General Chiwenga ordered Mugabe to stop purges of Zanu-PF members mainly linked to Mnangagwa, also heightened suspicion between the police and the military.
The tensions, however, are not new.
A few months ago, soldiers from the Inkomo garrison near Harare clashed with police after police officers allegedly threw metal spikes at a truck carrying troops.
Furthermore, Chihuri is widely seen as loyal to the G40 faction led by Grace Mugabe.
When announcing that the military were stepping in, Moyo urged other security services to comply — or be met with an appropriate response. The remarks were seen as sending a message to the police.
Chiwenga, meanwhile, is widely seen as a strong ally of axed vice-president Mnangagwa.