Morgan Tsvangirai, who had been receiving cancer treatment abroad, returned to Harare after Wednesday’s military takeover, two sources with knowledge of his movements said.
One source, a senior member of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) party, said talks were underway with military leaders about an administration that includes the opposition, with the tacit backing of key regional allies.
The source described the arrangement as a “a done deal,” but there was no indication on Thursday that Mugabe plans to go quietly. The 93-year-old leader, who is under house arrest in Harare, has not made any public statement since the military seized control.
Where is Mugabe?: South African President Jacob Zuma said the 93-year-old leader was detained at home but was “fine.” He hasn’t made a public statement since events unfolded Wednesday.
South African envoys: Two envoys dispatched by Zuma arrived in Harare for talks Thursday. Zuma, as chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), has called for a meeting in Botswana Thursday.
Key ally apologizes: Kudzanai Chipan, head of the Zanu-PF Youth League, appeared on state television to issue an apology for criticizing the head of the armed forces earlier this week.
Streets ‘quiet’: Tanks were seen at key intersections in the city Wednesday though there were few other signs of a change in leadership.
Zimbabwe has been in limbo since the military seized control of state institutions early Wednesday and placed Mugabe under house arrest.
Sources said talks were taking place in Zimbabwe to engineer a peaceful exit for the veteran leader. “There is a transition of power underway and it has tacit agreement from regional powers,” the opposition party source told CNN.
“There are active talks underway to form a transitional government and that transitional government will need to include the opposition,” added the source.
It was unclear what role Tsvangirai would play in that administration. He served as Prime Minister under a power-sharing deal with Mugabe after a disputed election in 2008, but Mugabe regained full control in 2013 amid further allegations of election fraud.
Key to any transitional administration will be Emmerson Mnangagwa, the powerful former Vice President forced out by Mugabe two weeks ago in a decision that touched off the latest political turmoil.
Mnangagwa remains one of the most powerful figures in the country and derives much of his support from the military.
Another crucial issue for the talks will be whether Mugabe is allowed to serve out the rest of his term. Elections are due in 2018.
Two South African ministers arrived in Zimbabwe on Wednesday to meet with authorities, according to the South African Department of International Relations and Cooperation.
A separate meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) was called by Zuma, Thursday. The meeting, to be held in Botswana, will include foreign ministers and delegates from neighboring Angola, Tanzania and Zambia.
Calm in the streets
Even as the military positioned armored vehicles throughout downtown in the capital, residents described the environment as “quite calm.”
“There are military tanks on the streets, which has never happened before,” said one Harare resident. “The military is obviously now in charge despite their insistence that it’s not a coup. It is.”
“Activities are normal elsewhere,” said another university student who was able to pass by the tanks outside of government buildings in central Harare repeatedly on Wednesday. “The soldiers outside the president’s office are actually talking to folks passing by,” he said.
The US embassy in Harare on Thursday urged American citizens to remain calm and safe and “limit unnecessary movements.” It said that while the US government “does not take sides in matters of internal Zimbabwean politics,” it said it was deeply concerned by the military’s actions.
“We call on Zimbabwean military leaders to exercise restraint, respect the rule of law, uphold the constitutionally-protected rights of all citizens, and to quickly return the country to normalcy,” the embassy said.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appealed for “calm, nonviolence and restraint,” deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement to CNN.
Mugabe’s shock decision last week to dismiss Mnangagwa, his powerful deputy, is seen as the trigger for Wednesday’s military intervention.
It brought to a head a simmering succession battle in Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party, fueling speculation that he was preparing to hand over the reins of government to his wife Grace, 52.
Mugabe, the only leader most Zimbabweans have ever known, ruled the landlocked country with an iron fist. After taking power with the end of British rule, he swiftly extinguished political opposition, ordering violent crackdowns that led to a string of massacres in opposition strongholds. Some of those campaigns of terror were believed to be carried out by Mnangagwa
when he was the country’s spy chief in the 1980s.
But a sign that Mugabe’s rule was over came when his key ally, Zuma, failed to condemn the military takeover, merely calling for restraint. “I am hoping that the situation is going to be controlled so peace and stability comes back to Zimbabwe,” he said.
Who’s in charge?
It remains uncertain, however, as to who precisely is calling the shots. In his Wednesday broadcast, Maj. Gen. S.B. Moyo insisted that people weren’t witnessing a military takeover.
Redi Tlhabi, journalist and talk show host, told CNN there was a reluctance in Zimbabwe to call it a coup, for fear of intervention by the African Union and other regional bodies.
“If they say that they have staged a coup, it compels the neighboring, regional countries to intervene, Tihabi said. “Remember, all of them embraced constitutional democracy and the coup actually belongs to a bygone era. So they’re reticent because they’re trying to avoid that kind of intervention,” added Tihabi.
Signs of shifting alliances emerged later Wednesday when Kudzanai Chipanga, the head of the Zanu-PF Youth League, a group that is a key ally of Grace Mugabe, apologized to the armed forces in a video broadcast on state broadcaster ZBC.
Earlier this week, Chipanga pledged to fight and die for Mugabe and criticized the head of the armed forces. But in his state TV statement, which he claimed to be making voluntarily, he recanted.
“I have since reflected and I personally admitted that I erred together with my entire executive to denigrate your highest office,” Kudzanai Chipanga said Thursday. “I have not been persuaded to offer myself to the state media but I have personally reflected and realized my mistake.”