A former British ambassador to Zimbabwe has said the events in its capital Harare – where president Robert Mugabe has been placed under house arrest – are “a coup in all but name”.
Mark Canning wrote in the Telegraph that “there will be relief in many quarters at the end of the Mugabe era” after the 93-year-old president was detained by the military following unrest.
British nationals in the capital are still being advised by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to stay in their homes or other accommodation “due to the uncertain political situation”.
South African president Jacob Zuma said he has spoken to Mr Mugabe – who has been in power for 37 years – and stressed the 93-year-old is “fine” but confined to his home.
Zimbabwe’s army said it also has the Zimbabwean first lady Grace Mugabe in custody and is securing government offices, sparking suggestions of a coup, although its supporters have described the action as a “bloodless correction”.
Mr Canning, who served as ambassador between 2009 and 2011, wrote: “There will be relief in many quarters at the end of the Mugabe era, and the removal of the president’s deeply unpopular wife.”
He added the action taken by the military was part of a power-struggle about presidential succession – after Mr Mugabe fired his deputy – and likely successor – Emmerson Mnangagwa last week.
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe with his wife Grace earlier this year (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP)
“There will equally be hope that Mr Mnangagwa, who is viewed by many, including in the opposition, as a more pragmatic and business-friendly figure, can arrest Zimbabwe’s downward spiral,” he said.
Mr Canning added: “Zimbabwe has all the ingredients to claw its way back to the prosperity which its long-suffering citizens deserve – but only if Mr Mugabe’s successor has the courage to abandon the disastrous policies of the past.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wrote in the paper that Mr Mugabe had “tarnished” the jewel that is Zimbabwe.
He wrote: “Today, in one of Africa’s most fertile countries, many are close to starvation; the image that people in Britain have of Zimbabwe is not of the Victoria Falls or spectacular wildlife, but stolen farms and the bandaged victims of the regime’s brutality.
“And now this disturbing story of plunder and misrule has reached what may be a turning point. All that we have ever wanted is for Zimbabweans to be masters of their own fate, as expressed through free elections.
“The path to a legitimate government now lies open. I hope that Zimbabwean politicians will take this opportunity, remembering that their country has so many strengths that even Mugabe has failed to tarnish it irreparably.”
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May called for an avoidance of violence.
She said: “We are monitoring those developments very carefully, the situation is still fluid, and we would urge restraint on all sides because we want to see and we would call for an avoidance of violence.”