YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon – Christian leaders in Zimbabwe are being cautious after the military took over key areas of the capital, and confined the country’s 93-year-old president, Robert Mugabe, to his home.
The Commission of Social Communications of the Archdiocese of Harare issued a statement after the military action, noting armed forces had taken over the presidential palace, parliament, airport, bus station, and the radio and television headquarters.
The military announced in the early morning of Nov. 15 that they were securing Mugabe and his family, and claimed it was “targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country.”
The military denied that they had staged a coup despite all signs to the contrary.
The Fides news agency reported that the situation is tense, although many people went to work. Fides further quotes sources as saying that the “spirit among the population is high, as can be seen by messages exchanged through social media and talking with people in the street. Mugabe and his wife were dividing the country even more, and did not care to solve the nation’s evils, in particular the disastrous economic situation. Uncertainty remains if we are governed by the military or the civilians.”
Fides reports that the military is “friendly towards the population,” and the borders have remained open.
Tensions escalated when Mugabe sacked his vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was largely seen as the favorite to succeed the aged president, sparking speculations that he would try to impose his unpopular wife, Grace, in the post.
Leading up to the military intervention
The first signs of a potential military takeover came on Tuesday when tanks were seen near the capital. And then on early Wednesday, Maj. Gen. S.B. Moyo addressed the country on state TV, denying that the military had staged a coup.
“To both our people and the world beyond our borders, we wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government,” he said.
“As soon as we accomplish our mission we expect the situation to return to normalcy.”
But a senior Zimbabwe legal analyst based in the UK, Alex Magaisa has disputed that claim.
“Although it doesn’t look like a coup, it is a coup,” he told The Telegraph.
Army General Constantino Chiwenga, who is loyal to Mnangagwa, had on Monday demanded Mugabe stop the purge of allies of the former vice president.
“We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in,” Chiwenga said.
Churches call for transition to a more just society
In the wake of the recent developments, the general secretary of the Zimbabwean Council of Churches, the Rev. Kenneth Mtata, has called on political and civil society leaders to rebuild a broken society.
“The current situation was inevitable. We had reached a point of no return. Our politics of attrition and toxic public engagement has had its logical conclusion,” he said.
It is a statement which echoed one made earlier this month in a joint statement by the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, that described the country’s politics as “poisonous,” and accused Mugabe of stifling political dissent.
Mtata said he hoped the current situation is a transition to a more just society.
“Our hope is that we can put back the train on the rails of democracy and citizenship engagement. We hope the current situation is only a transition to something that will be participatory and just,” he said.
He described Zimbabwe as a “fragmented society as a result of the failure to deal with the hurts of the past, and the failure of the political system to provide a conducive environment for everyone to have an opportunity. The selfish system of patronage has made politicians lose a national focus.”
Mugabe – who has been in power for 37 years, first as prime minister, then as president – has presided over an ailing economy characterized by extremely high rates of inflation and a worthless currency.
Once described as “the bread basket of Africa,” a string of disastrous policies under Mugabe’s watch ultimately led to Zimbabwe’s economic collapse.
First, land was expropriated from white farmers and given to blacks with little farming experience.
The result was that food production plummeted, falling by 50 percent in the 1990s. Despite this, Mugabe stepped up the pressure to seize more land in 1999 and 2001.
As a result, many governments suspended payments to Zimbabwe, resulting in run-away inflation that rose to as much as 79.6 billion percent by the end of 2008, with the unemployment rate hitting 94 percent.
Currently, almost all financial transactions in Zimbabwe are made with U.S. dollars, and the country no longer prints its own currency.
A presidential election is scheduled to take place in 2018, and Mugabe had indicated he wished to run again for re-election, but the current military action puts that election – and Mugabe’s political future – in doubt.