Malawi says it is monitoring the political situation in Zimbabwe—a fellow member of the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) and home to millions of Malawians—where the army has moved in to restore order amid a succession battle.
Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Emmanuel Fabiano said in a brief interview yesterday that Lilongwe is currently collecting information on the situation from the Malawi High Commission in the capital, Harare.
By yesterday evening, it was unclear how power will be managed in the face of President Robert Mugabe’s house arrest in Harare as the military took control.
He said: “We are [currently] monitoring the situation and we are gathering information. When we have gathered the information we will notify Malawians.”
The minister refused to be drawn further on the issue, saying there was no need to speculate at the moment.
Infighting within Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF over Mugabe’s likely successor has in recent months created tensions.
Zanu-PF is scheduled to hold a special congress on December 12 to elect a candidate to succeed Mugabe as leader of the party and lead the party in presidential elections next year.
However, the run-up to the Zanu-PF congress has degenerated into tension heightened by political rivalry following Mugabe’s purported sacking of his deputy and long-time ally Emmerson Mnangagwa last week on allegations that he plotted to topple the 93-year-old leader.
Mnangagwa was reported to have fled to South Africa last week following the political upheaval though fresh reports quoting a Twitter account allegedly under his name, @ED MNANGAGWA, now suggest that he is back in Zimbabwe.
The situation worsened this week when the country’s military chief, General Constantino Chiwenga, prompted by Mnangagwa’s sacking, issued a stern warning to Mugabe and his cronies against continuous “purging” of political critics.
Several international television news outlets yesterday beamed Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) spokesperson Major General Sibusiso Moyo addressing the nation on State television where he said “the situation has moved to another level,” but emphasised that Mugabe and his family were safe.
He said: “We are only targeting criminals around the President [Mugabe] who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.”
There were reports yesterday that Mugabe remained in confinement at his home in Harare.
There were also unconfirmed reports, according to The Guardian, that the president’s wife, Grace—who critics see as the probable source of the current political turmoil—was in Namibia on business.
The Zimbabwe situation has attracted cautious reactions from the region’s powers.
In his reaction, South African President Jacob Zuma, the incumbent chairperson of Sadc, yesterday expressed shock over the political crisis unfolding in neighbouring Zimbabwe.
In a statement televised on South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) yesterday, Zuma called for “restraint and calm”.
He expressed hope that the developments would not lead to unconstitutional of government “as that would be contrary to both Sadc and [African Union] AU positions”.
He also urged the Zimbabwe government and ZDF to resolve the impasse amicably and ensure maintenance of peace in the country.
Reacting to the situation in an interview yesterday, local politician and former diplomat Sam Mpasu said the political crisis in Zimbabwe signifies the beginning of an end for Mugabe who has led the Southern African nation for 37 years.
The former Speaker of Parliament and Cabinet minister during the Bakili Muluzi administration urged current African leaders to ensure that they always abide by the rule of law, transparency, checks and balances as well as accountability.
Said Mpasu: “The good thing is that the vast majority of countries in the Southern African region have adopted term limits and many of them like Mozambique and Tanzania have recently had smooth transitions, including Zambia to our west. We can only hope that that trend will continue.”
On his part, historian and economist Desmond Dudwa Phiri, widely known as DD Phiri, observed that although Mugabe has stayed in power a long time, he was mostly popular with the army after he reportedly gave them good incentives, including land revoked from European farmers.
He said: “It was the army that was keeping him in power.”
Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi were once in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland under British rule.
Earlier yesterday, the British and United States (US) missions in Harare warned their citizens to remain vigilant amid political uncertainty that has seen Zimbabwe’s military cracking down on “criminals” accused of misleading Mugabe.
The warnings followed a set of military manoeuvres by the ZDF on Monday night, which also resulted into its gaining temporary control of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Service (ZBS).
The Nation was unable to get a comment from Zimbabwe’s Deputy High Commissioner to Malawi Peter Chifunyise as he was yet to respond to an e-mailed questionnaire at close of business yesterday.
Zimbabwe is an important trading partner and gateway for Malawi, but international passenger carriers yesterday said there was no cause for alarm in terms of travelling, especially to South Africa.
In a separate interview, an official working for Intercape, one of the largest bus operators operating between South Africa, Zimbabwe and Malawi, assured local commuters not to panic, arguing that the situation was calm on the ground. n