Zimbabwe army chief warns military could ‘step in’ over party purge

Gen Constantino Chiwenga issues demands after vice-president was sacked following a clash with Grace Mugabe


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.

President Robert Mugabe addressing party members with his wife, Grace.
 President Robert Mugabe addressing party members with his wife, Grace. Photograph: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty

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.

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.

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