Zimbabwe’s army chief has demanded a halt to the purge in the ruling Zanu-PF party after the sacking of vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, and warned the military could intervene.
“The current purging, which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background, must stop forthwith,” Gen Constantino Chiwenga told a media conference on Monday attended by about 90 senior army officers at military HQ.
“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..”
Mnangagwa was dismissed and humiliated a week earlier after clashing with President Robert Mugabe’s wife, Grace, who is now in prime position to succeed her 93-year-old husband. Analysts had warned that the sacking would spark repercussions beyond Robert Mugabe’s control.
Mnangagwa’s main rivals within the ruling Zanu-PF party are the younger Generation 40 or G40 group, which has Grace Mugabe’s support.
But the 75-year-old former vice-president has powerful military connections, having served as defence and state security minister.
Soon after his dismissal Mnangagwa fled into exile, vowing to return. He launched a direct challenge to Mugabe by calling for members of the ruling party to desert the president.
Mnangagwa – whose nickname is the Crocodile – defiantly told Mugabe that the party was “not personal property for you and your wife to do as you please”. Mugabe reacted by expelling his longtime confidante and former liberation war guerrilla from the party.
Zanu-PF is due to hold a congress next month, when 52-year-old Grace, a hugely divisive figure, could be appointed as one of the country’s two vice-presidents. The move could pave the way for her to get the top job.
Mugabe, the world’s oldest president, has refused to name his successor. Zimbabwe goes to elections next year to vote for a president and lawmakers.
Chiwenga urged unfettered participation at the party’s special congress in December to choose new leaders. “Members must go with equal opportunity to exercise their democratic rights,” he said.
Chiwenga claimed Zanu-PF had been infiltrated by people who were seeking to destroy it from within. “Known counter-revolutionaries … must be exposed and fished out,” he said.
The purging in the party had plunged the country into a crisis, he added. He also called on the ruling party officials to “stop reckless utterance … denigrating the military, which is causing alarm and despondency within the rank and file”.
The army boss added that the infighting in the party was damaging the country, which is gripped by an economic crisis.
“There is distress, trepidation and despondence within the nation,” he said. “As a result of the squabbling, there has been no meaningful development in the country for the past five years.”
The crisis had resulted in “cash shortages and rising commodity prices”, he said.
Zimbabwe abandoned its currency in 2009 in favour of the US dollar because of hyperinflation. However, it started running out of dollars and last year it introduced bond notes, a parallel currency pegged to the US dollar. The bond notes are running short, forcing banks to ration cash withdrawals.