President Robert Mugabe, confined by the military to his private residence since Tuesday night, is expected to hand over power imminently to his former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is believed to be planning a transitional government which will include the opposition.
Mnangagwa is expected to form a transitional government that would rule for five years, after which the country would hold elections, highly placed sources said. His mandate, according to the military plan, would include restoring the rule of law and stabilise the economy.
The fierce battle to succeed the 93-year old president came to a head on Wednesday, when the military effectively seized control of government and launched a crackdown on what it described as "criminals around" Mugabe.
The Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) took over state broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation (ZBC) to announce, early yesterday morning, its unprecedented intervention in civilian affairs.
"We wish to make it abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of government. What the Zimbabwe Defence Forces is doing is to pacify a degenerating political‚ social and economic situation in our country which if not addressed may result in violent conflict," the military said in a statement read on state television by major general Sibusiso Moyo.
"To the generality of the people of Zimbabwe…our wish is that you enjoy your rights and freedoms and that we return our country to a dispensation that allows for investment‚ development and prosperity that we all fought for and for which many of our citizens paid the supreme sacrifice."
The statement opened with assurances that Mugabe - whom it referred to using his full title - and his family were "safe and sound and their security is guaranteed". Mugabe, who chaired Cabinet on Tuesday and has not been seen in public since the military's announcement, was expected to make a public statement on Wednesday. In a statement issued yesterday afternoon, South Africa's President Jacob Zuma, who chairs the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) bloc, said he had spoken to Mugabe.
"President Zuma spoke to President Robert Mugabe earlier today, who indicated that he was confined to his home but said that he was fine," Zuma's office said in a statement which added that South Africa was sending two envoys to Zimbabwe.
The special envoys will first meet the army and Mugabe, before engaging political parties in the country for a possible inclusive government, said a source.
"They (the military) don't want to embarrass him by going through a coup," a source familiar with discussions within the army said.
"There is a suggestion that they could retain him as an honorary leader of the party," he said. "They want to create a new paradigm that you don't chase anyone from a party formed by many people, most of them now departed." On a day of high drama, several top ruling party, government and security officials were reported to have been arrested or fled.
The escalation of tensions followed a bellicose statement by ZDF commander, Constantino Chiwenga, on Monday, which telegraphed the military's intention to intervene decisively in the ongoing battle to succeed Mugabe.
In an equally belligerent reposte on Tuesday, ZANU-PF accused Chiwenga of "treasonable conduct".
Sources said while the military leaders had watched succession-linked purges in the ruling party with trepidation, they had been unnerved by indications that the culling could soon be extended to their ranks.
"(Grace Mugabe and her allies) wanted to purge the security service and put loyalists in key positions. The generals were infuriated," the source said. All military officers from the rank of colonel going up had been asked to submit their curriculum vitaes, the source added, in a move which was interpreted as a precursor to the purge. State security officers from the rank of district intelligence officers were also to submit their CVs, said the source.
As speculation mounted that China, where Chiwenga was last week, might have given its blessing to the seismic developments in Zimbabwe, Beijing issued a statement on Wednesday, saying the general's visit to Beijing had nothing to do with the military's dramatic intervention in Harare. Chiwenga last week flew to China where he met Chinese defence minister, Chang Wanquan, on Friday. Sources said the visit had not been scheduled but was hastily arranged to court Chinese support for the military's plans in Zimbabwe.
The Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, this week insisted Chiwenga's visit "was a normal military exchange mutually agreed upon by China and Zimbabwe". But sources were adamant that Chiwenga had briefed the Chinese of "trouble in the ruling party and "threats to Chinese interests". They said the visit was not pre-planned but had been brought about by the sackings. The Chinese have invested heavily in Zimbabwe's mining and energy sectors, as well as several other areas of the economy. They have joint venture projects with the military in most of their local projects.
Several Cabinet ministers and top civil servants accused by the army of being "criminals around (Mugabe)" allegedly "committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country" were arrested on Tuesday. Several others were said to be on the run, according to sources.
Those arrested include Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, who ranks fourth in the ZANU-PF hierarchy, who was reportedly taken into custody on Tuesday night after soldiers overran security at his residence. ZANU-PF youth leader Kudzi Chipanga, who made a public statement early on Tuesday rebuking Chiwenga, was also reported to be in military custody.
Sources said yesterday that in the event that Mugabe refused to officially surrender power to Mnangagwa, the army was working on a plan under which Parliament would be called to pass a vote of no confidence on the President. Alternatively, they were contemplating a move under which they would move to impeach him for undermining the Constitution.
The two options would have grave consequences for Mugabe, who was, however expected to accept a "smooth handover of power to ED (Mnangagwa)", said the source, a senior member of the country's State security establishment.
The Financial Gazette is reliably informed that Mnangagwa flew back into the country on Tuesday night and was already preparing to form an inclusive government that would rope in former vice president Joice Mujuru, who was also sacked from both government and ZANU-PF in 2014.
"The parties have been asked to prepare position papers ahead of the visit by Zuma's envoy. Morgan Tsvangirai will present on behalf of his coalition, while Mujuru will present on behalf of her coalition," said a source.