Belfast Telegraph

UK expats keeping heads down as Zimbabwe 'coup' plays out

By Allan Preston

UK citizens in Zimbabwe are keeping a low profile after an apparent army takeover of the African nation.

Robert Mugabe, the controversial leader of Zimbabwe's ruling Zanu PF party for 37 years, is said to be under house arrest in the capital Harare as soldiers patrol the streets.

No casualties have been reported so far, although shots were fired when the military made its move on Tuesday.

That night Major General Sibusiso Moyo appeared on air to deny there was a coup, insisting they were targeting "criminals" around Mugabe.

The question of the 93-year-old President's succession started the power struggle - with Mugabe favouring his wife Grace and the army said to prefer the recently sacked vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa.

Kate Hoey, the Northern Ireland born Labour MP for Vauxhall, is chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Zimbabwe.

She said it was certainly the end of Mugabe's tyrannical reign, but that Mnangagwa would be no better.

Belfast Alliance councillor Kate Nicholl, who was born in the country, said she was anxious for the safety of friends and family should violence erupt.

"I understand Grace Mugabe has left the country and Mnangagwa may have returned, that's not confirmed yet," Ms Hoey told the Belfast Telegraph.

She added that many in Zimbabwe feared 74-year-old Mnangagwa - nicknamed 'The Crocodile' - far more than Mugabe. "He was responsible for huge massacres back in the 1980s, he was also behind torture and imprisonment as well as the rigging of elections," she said.

"This is probably the handing over from one tyrannical figure to another."

She urged other African nations to put renewed pressure for change on Zanu PF.

"The Zimbabweans are actually a very peaceful people, in other countries this could have turned into real violence," she said.

The MP claimed it was possible the army would keep Mugabe as a figurehead, adding: "Grace Mugabe would have been absolutely dreadful. She was pretty much hated by a lot of Zanu PF, which led to a lot of the disagreements and fights."

Around 20,000 British citizens still live in Zimbabwe.

"They've come through some pretty hard times over the years, so far they're keeping their heads down and we haven't heard of any attacks," she said.

Ms Nicholl left Zimbabwe when she was 13 in 2000.

"I spoke to my mum this morning, she's waiting to hear back from a cousin in Zimbabwe who lives near Mugabe's residence," she said.

"The majority of people say it's quite calm, but they're unsettled and don't know what's going to happen."

She agreed that Mnangagwa would be no improvement. "I think change has to come from the people and I don't think change coming from the army is a good thing for anyone.

"The situation has been dire for so long, so you can understand why people are clinging to any hope they can.

"There is the hope that peaceful change will come, but you just don't know.

"When you see a man in an army uniform reading the news on national TV, I find that quite disconcerting."

Belfast Telegraph


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