On Tuesday night, the Zimbabwean military seized control of the country in what many — but not all — are calling a coup d’etat. The army also took control of state broadcasting to announce that they had detained 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe and his family and that they were ‘safe and sound and their security is guaranteed.’ Despite the coup-like events — a military taking control of a country and detaining the leader — they assured in the broadcast that this was not a coup and that the military is simply ‘targeting criminals around the president’ and that all will return to normal once that mission is accomplished. Okaaay.
South African President Jacob Zuma was able to contact Mugabe directly and confirms that he is ‘fine’ but under house arrest until the ‘criminals’ are caught. News correspondents in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital, say that there is a strong military presence in the area, but the streets are calm.
Although the military denies these events constitute a coup, people are not so sure. The leader of the opposition in Zimbabwe, Tendai Biti, said in reference to the statement, ‘Well, if it fluffs like a duck and waddles like a duck, it’s a duck. This is a coup and there’s no question about that.’
These military actions come amid tensions surrounding who should succeed the elderly president after almost 40 years of governance. In October, Mugabe broke with the vice president and assumed successor of the presidency, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mugabe and Mnangagwa had been political allies since the Zimbabwe War of Independence in the 1960s. In early November, however, First Lady Grace Mugabe claimed that Mnangagwa was plotting a coup and the president publicly rebuked the VP, then fired and exiled him.
These acts created deep divisions in the country since political leaders had called for only veterans of the War of Independence be able to rule — which Grace Mugabe is not. The president had also been removing certain prominent veterans of the war from positions of power, something else groups were unhappy with.
At the moment, with so many conflicting narratives, it is unclear whether this is a real coup or if Mugabe will actually return to power shortly. It is also unclear who will become president should he not be reinstated.