HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s military took control of the country early Wednesday and detained its longtime leader, President Robert Mugabe, capping a political showdown over Mugabe’s apparent attempts to install his wife as his successor.In a televised announcement after tanks and troops rolled into the capital, Harare, a general insisted that it was “not a military takeover.”
Despite the assurances, the events bore all the hallmarks of a coup, with military vehicles stationed around the city, the army taking over the television station and a uniformed general issuing a statement.
Army Gen. Constantino Chiwenga made the move as a struggle over who will succeed the country’s increasingly frail 93-year-old leader came to a head. Mugabe has ruled since he led the country to independence from white minority rule in 1980.
Mugabe is one of the oldest and longest-ruling leaders to come out of Africa’s struggle against colonialism and the emergence of new nations across the continent. His rule, however, has also become increasingly erratic, and he is blamed by many for devastating the once-prosperous country.
“We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover,” said the statement read by Maj. Gen. Sibusiso Moyo. “We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country.”
The fate of Mugabe and his wife, 52-year-old Grace Mugabe, who increasingly looked set to succeed him, was unclear, but they appeared to be in military custody.
“Mugabe and his family are safe and sound, and their security is guaranteed,” said Moyo. A tank blocked the road in front of Mugabe’s offices Wednesday as a large number of soldiers milled around.
South African President Jacob Zuma, who is sending high-level envoys to Harare, said he spoke to Mugabe and that he is “fine” — albeit confined to his home.