Amid reports of a secret plan by the Zimbabwean military to seize power in the event of President Robert Mugabe’s death or incapacitation, US Ambassador to Zimbabwe Charles Ray said Thursday that the military is already firmly in charge.
During a media roundtable in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second largest city, Ray said Mr. Mugabe is now a figurehead whose departure from office is unlikely to have a major impact on the Southern African country’s political dynamics.
The envoy said top military officers who have openly declared their allegiance to Mugabe and his former ruling ZANU-PF party should be removed from their posts.
Himself a former military man, Ray said the role of a national army in normal conditions is to defend the country it stands for and not to dabble in electoral politics.
He said removing Mr. Mugabe from office without changing the system of governance will not solve Zimbabwe’s long-running political problems. "There is no way you can build a house from the roof,” he said. “You have to start from the foundation.”
Zimbabwean security officials who have declared fealty to Mr. Mugabe and ZANU-PF include Defense Forces Commander Constantine Chiwenga, Army Commander Brigadier-General Douglas Nyikayaramba and Police Commissioner-General Augustine Chihuri.
Ray’s statements came as the Blooomberg news service reported that Zimbabwe's military and security agencies are hatching a plan to install Chiwenga as president in the event that Mugabe should become too ill to continue in office.
Bloomberg cited two unnamed ZANU-PF politburo members and a military officer. The news service said the military is worried President Mugabe’s health is failing after his repeated trips to Singapore for medical treatment, some say for prostate cancer.
ZANU-PF Chief Whip Joram Gumbo told VOA reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that Ray has it wrong and that the the reports of a military junta-in-waiting are unfounded.
"It is mischievous," the senior parliamentarian said. "We are a very lawful country and Chiwenga will never do anything like that. Mugabe is our president and if he leaves office, it is straightforward that we go for elections."
Some observers said a military installation of Chiwengwa that bypassed Vice President Joice Mujuru - wife of a top former military commander, Solomon Mujuru - and Defense Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa could strain ties between the army and ZANU-PF.
But Martin Rupiya, a retired Zimbabwean army colonel, said that whatever happens, he doesn’t see a split between ZANU-PF and the military, which are closely allied. "There is a very close relationship between the army and the party," Rupiya said.