Zimbabwe military: Calm transition underway

Down the road from a fast-food joint serving peri-peri burgers and fries, three soldiers perch themselves on top of an armored personnel carrier to watch traffic.

The scene is what passes for normal these days in Harare.

The police are nowhere to be found in Zimbabwe’s capital. Usually they are everywhere, in their blue and white uniforms, often trying to fleece motorists for this or that.

They’ve been ordered to stay home.

Not even members of the Presidential Guard, who once said they would die for President Robert Mugabe, are calling the shots. In their yellow berets, they are confined to peering over the wall of their headquarters near the State House.

Right outside the gate: armored personnel carriers, rocket launchers, what appears to be a tank and soldiers inside army trucks.

The message is clear. While the 93-year-old Mugabe is president on paper — the army is in charge.

“The military says that it is not a coup. It is not a military takeover,” said Morgan Tsvangirai, a longtime opposition leader and former prime minister. “But what I can say is that it is unconstitutional. Whatever you want to describe it as, it is unconstitutional.”

Suddenly Mugabe appears

A senior opposition leader said that negotiations are ongoing to form some kind of transition government with sacked Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

So where is the president? After ruling this country for nearly 40 years with an iron fist, he has been out of sight, but on everyone’s mind.

Mugabe then resurfaced Thursday in photos published by The Herald — Zimbabwe’s state newspaper.

There he is, wearing a blazer and slacks, seemingly having a friendly chat with Gen. Constantine Chiwenga, the leader of the armed forces who sidelined him. Or in a sitting room with Cabinet members from South Africa, enveloped in a cream armchair.

The propaganda message from state media is clear — a calm transition of power is underway. The military and Mnangagwa know that regional powers could be forced to step in if what’s happening were called a coup.

There’s no sign of first lady Grace Mugabe. To most Zimbabwe watchers, her situation is perhaps the most precarious. She became a front-runner to succeed her husband when Mnangagwa went into hiding — but Mnangagwa’s dismissal was a high-risk, high-reward move.

Turns out, it was more high risk.

‘What we need is bread to eat’

On the streets and on social media, a sense of optimism is visible among some Zimbabweans. Mugabe has run this country for longer than most of them have been alive.

But the president has presided over a near-collapse of the economy and overseen brutal suppression of critics during his rule.

At a taxi stand near downtown, commuters jump in and out of minibuses in the rain. Many don’t want to speculate about Mugabe’s fate.

“We don’t know what is happening. All we know is that the soldiers are in control of everything,” a fare collector said.

One driver was more definitive: “Robert Mugabe must leave. We need a new president. We need bread and butter.