NAIROBI — After a week of political turmoil in Zimbabwe, people in the nation’s capital are tweeting images and videos of what they say is an increased military presence in the city.
Last week President Robert Mugabe abruptly fired his vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, on charges of disloyalty. Then on Monday, the nation’s commander of defense forces, Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, in an equally unprecedented move, warned Mugabe that the military would intervene if the chaos inside the ruling party wasn’t handled.
Tuesday afternoon, people began to share photos and videos on Twitter of what appear to be tanks driving through the capital, Harare.
“There is a tank blocking Kirkman Road stopping cars from going outside,” the person shooting the video can be heard saying, adding that military officers were at one point preventing drivers from passing a certain point but then began to allow people to drive through.
“This road leads to the second presidential guard barracks that are just outside Harare,” the person added.
Khuluma Afrika, a local publication that refers to itself on its website as a “center for investigative journalism,” reported that military vehicles had blocked off major roads in the capital and created a barrier around the state-owned Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation.
South African Security and Politics Adviser Bo Mbindwane tweeted a series of images showing military officers deployed in what appears to be a commercial area of Harare, and on the roads. “This is not good,” he said.
Mbindwane urged people to “not take the Zimbabwe situation lightly” as military presence increased.
But some people in Harare say the panic is a false alarm, and that some of the images being shared on social media are old.
A source based in Harare who was not authorized to speak with the press on the issue told BuzzFeed News that it is custom for military officers to ride around the city in army vehicles as seen in the videos circulating on Tuesday. The individual added that the country’s Ministry of Defense — as well as the military’s headquarters — are located in Harare, and that it is normal to see armored vehicles roaming the area.
The source said that the video below was taken near a barracks about 12 miles outside of Zimbabwe, where Mugabe’s presidential guard operates.
Given the increased tension in the country ever since Mugabe fired Vice President Mnangagwa, the source said, it is not surprising to see more military guards in that part of town.
The president’s shocking announcement on Nov. 6 thrust the country further into uncertainty about what happens when the 93-year-old leader either dies or steps down after 37 years in power. The minister of information said that Mnangagwa, who had worked alongside Mugabe for more than 40 years, had “exhibited traits of disloyalty” throughout his tenure. Many believe his unexpected dismissal paved the way for First Lady Grace Mugabe to assume power after her husband.
The youth-led arm of Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) party supported the president’s decision. “Defending the revolution and our leader and president is an ideal we live for and if need be, it is a principle we are prepared to die for,” its secretary, Kudzai Chipanga, told reporters on Tuesday.
On Monday, Gen. Chiwenga issued a rare warning to the president that the military would intervene to protect the country.
“It is with humility and effort that we come before you to pronounce the indisputable reality that there is instability in ZANU-PF,” Chiwenga said in a press statement Monday. “Today it is observed anxiety in the country at large.”
Chiwnga also spoke about the Zimbabweans who lost their lives in the country’s revolution, during which Mugabe was a leader but did not personally fight and Grace was still a teenager, and that they should “remain the major stakeholders in respect to the gains of the reparations struggle. And when these are threatened, we are obliged to take corrective measures.”
On Tuesday, ZANU-PF fired back, saying that the general’s statements were “clearly calculated to disturb national peace… and suggests treasonable conduct on his part as this was meant to incite insurrection.”