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Zimbabwe Army Takes President Mugabe Into Custody, Seizes Control


Tanks and armored vehicles are on the streets of the capital of Zimbabwe today. And for the first time in 37 years, Robert Mugabe is not in control of the country. The army has taken Mugabe and his wife into custody, and they have taken control of the state broadcaster. Mugabe was Zimbabwe's first leader after securing its independence from Britain. At the age of 93, he's known as being a political survivor, resisting all efforts to unseat him. But the military is now in charge, even though the army insists it is not a coup.

I'm joined now by the managing editor of the Harare News, Harry Davies. He joins us via Skype from Harare. Thanks so much for being with us.

HARRY DAVIES: Thanks, Rachel. It's a pleasure.

MARTIN: I understand you've been out in the city on the streets. What's happening?

DAVIES: Rumors of a coup sort of started coming out yesterday afternoon when military vehicles were sighted coming into town from, presumably, bases outside of the city. And there was a lot of speculation through the night. But first dawned on us what was going on at about 2:30 when the national broadcaster - it had men in fatigues read a statement from the army saying that they had stepped in to intervene in the economic and political chaos that has enveloped the country.

MARTIN: Let's talk about the political backdrop to this. I mean, you mention the economic and political instability. What are the motivations here? Who wants to see Mugabe out?

DAVIES: Well, the man behind it is former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa who was sacked last week in dramatic style - this past weekend, in fact - and fled to, we believe, South Africa. And the reason for his firing was quite clear to everyone. It was a move by President Mugabe and his wife to ensure that she becomes the next president of the country, which didn't sit well at all with most people in the country but especially the military, who really do have a lot of reverence for the soldiers who fought in the liberation struggle, our war veterans.

MARTIN: So the military is not on Mugabe's side in this moment?

DAVIES: Well, as you've seen, Mugabe's, by all accounts, being well treated, and his family are guaranteed safety, and they respect him a lot. I think they have a lot of disdain for his wife, who's behaved very brashly and aggressively over the years and has no military credentials. So out of respect for Mugabe, who did free this country after the liberation - at the end of the liberation struggle - out of respect for him, they're going to protect him and his wife.

MARTIN: So why doesn't the army want to say that this is a transfer of power - that this is a coup?

DAVIES: Look, it certainly is a coup. When you see men in military fatigues sitting in the state broadcaster feeling uncomfortable on camera, you know that something's afoot. And when sections of town are closed off by tanks and when the police are on their way to be seen, it's a coup. But they're trying to keep it very peaceful and simple and not give it that - the name coup to protect this transition in the eyes of international community.

MARTIN: So what does this mean for Zimbabweans? I mean, is this a move that is welcome?

DAVIES: I think - just like we have been in the past 24, 48, 72 hours - we're just wildly speculating as to what's going to happen next. But people I spoke to on the ground today were extremely jubilant in a reserved way. You know, one-on-one conversation, there's enormous excitement about what's coming next. We've had the same president - I'm 32. President Mugabe had been president for five years by the time I was born. He's the only president I've ever known. And today that all changed. So it's - I think people are shocked and being - sort of holding their breath.

MARTIN: Harry Davies, he's the managing editor of the Harare News, joining us on the line via Skype from Harare. Thank you so much.

DAVIES: Thank you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.