• Zimbabwe’s military said early Wednesday that it had taken custody of President Robert Mugabe. In a broadcast, an officer declared that the military was “targeting criminals” around the 93-year-old president.
• The military appeared to have taken control of the state broadcaster, ZBC. Maj. Gen. S.B. Moyo, the army’s chief of staff, said in a predawn appearance that the president and his family were “safe and sound and their security is guaranteed.”
• President Jacob Zuma of South Africa spoke with Mr. Mugabe, who “indicated that he was confined to his home but said that he was fine,” according to a statement from Mr. Zuma’s office.
• Mr. Mugabe has been Zimbabwe’s only leader since it gained independence in 1980. Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, had been seen as a likely successor, but he was removed from office last week, a move that bolstered the political fortunes of Mr. Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe, 52.
Is this a coup?
It certainly looks like one. General Moyo said, “This is not a military takeover,” but the image of men in uniform on state television in the middle of the night suggested otherwise.
The military said that it had moved to “pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation” and that once its mission was completed “the situation will return to normalcy.”While General Moyo called Mr. Mugabe the commander in chief, the military’s actions starkly revealed the limits of the president’s control.
About half a dozen tanks were stationed around strategic government buildings and intersections in the capital, Harare, but shops and banks were open, and most people carried on with business as usual.
Who are the main figures?
Robert Mugabe. He has been at the forefront of Zimbabwe’s politics for decades, first heading the fight against white minority rule, then serving as the country’s leader since independence in 1980. Through a combination of political maneuvering and authoritarian tactics, he has maintained his grip on power through his governing party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF.
Emmerson Mnangagwa. A longtime ally of the president and a fellow veteran of the war for independence, Mr. Mnangagwa is a hard-liner who became vice president and Mr. Mugabe’s probable successor three years ago. He is known as the Crocodile; as justice minister, he helped keep Mr. Mugabe in power by cracking down on the opposition.
Grace Mugabe. Mr. Mugabe’s wife of 21 years, Ms. Mugabe is the head of ZANU-PF’s women’s wing and has support from the party’s younger activists. She led the campaign against another rival to succeed her husband, former Vice President Joice Mujuru, and after Mr. Mnangagwa was removed from office she was seen as Mr. Mugabe’s most likely heir.
What we don’t know.
Much is uncertain, and events are still unfolding. In the early hours of the military action, there were no public statements by Mr. Mugabe, Ms. Mugabe or Mr. Mnangagwa. The degree to which any of them support or oppose the military’s moves is unclear.
Likewise, the military’s long-term plans are vague. General Moyo called on all soldiers to return to their barracks and announced a cancellation of all leave. He also warned other security services to cooperate. The extent to which the military might face resistance, from outside or from within, is unknown.
Negotiations were underway between Mr. Mnangagwa’s allies and opposition parties to possibly form an interim unity government, a move that would be likely to quell criticism of the military takeover.