Who’s in charge in Zimbabwe? What just happened? Here’s a look at the players in a fast-moving political drama that has President Robert Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, in military custody.
PRESIDENT ROBERT MUGABE
The wily, 93-year-old Mugabe has led the once-prosperous southern African nation since independence from white minority rule in 1980, and many in the country know no other leader. Despite signs of his increasing frailty that include dozing off in meetings, stumbling and extended trips overseas for medical treatment, he has withstood multiple election challenges and years of U.S. sanctions. He appears to have stumbled badly with his firing last week of deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa, a longtime ally who had military support. The sacking led many in Zimbabwe to think that first lady Grace Mugabe was being positioned to succeed her husband and take up the post of vice president at a ruling party conference next month.
FIRST LADY GRACE MUGABE
The 52-year-old first lady met the president years ago as a secretary in his office. She had an affair with Mugabe that produced his first surviving children and married the president after his first wife died. Her political profile has soared in the past few years and she has openly indicated her interest in the presidency, even publicly challenging her husband earlier this year to name a successor. She also has been a fierce defender of her ailing husband, declaring that he could run as a “corpse” in next year’s election and remain in power. The first lady, however, is not widely popular in Zimbabwe, where her lavish spending touches a nerve in a country whose economy has fallen apart. But she had appeared to have the support of the ruling party’s youth wing and led a faction of party leaders in their 40s and 50s in a growing generational divide.
FORMER VICE PRESIDENT EMMERSON MNANGAGWA
Nicknamed the “crocodile” for his heavy-lidded gaze and ruthlessness, Mugabe’s once likely successor became the target of increasing insults by the president and his wife in recent weeks. Mugabe sacked him last week and accused Mnangagwa of plotting to take power through witchcraft. The 75-year-old Mnangagwa, a fellow veteran of the fight for independence from Rhodesia and long enjoying the military’s support as a former defense minister, fled Zimbabwe citing threats to him and his family. His whereabouts remain unclear. Both the army and the influential war veterans group have expressed support for him.
ARMY COMMANDER CONSTANTINO CHIWENGA
Monday’s unprecedented comments by the army commander warning against a purge of Mnangagwa supporters and other senior war veterans touched off the current drama. The statement by the 61-year-old Chiwenga also opened the first public rift between Mugabe and the military and set the country on edge. On Tuesday, armored personnel vehicles were seen on the outskirts of the capital, Harare, leading to the overnight turmoil that saw the army commandeer the state broadcaster and announce it had Mugabe and his family in custody.