Could a Coup Happen? Zimbabwe Military Threatens Mugabe Rule After President Fires Deputy

Zimbabwe's military chief issued a rare, stark warning to the nation's political leadership Monday over alleged recent political purges, raising concerns of a potential coup and renewed instability in a country already devastated by economic hardships.

General Constantino Chiwenga, a revolutionary who rose up the ranks to become head of the country's armed forces in 2004, threatened to use military force to defend the positions of ruling Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU–PF) figures who played a role in ending U.K. rule over Zimbabwe, formerly known as Rhodesia, in 1980. While Chiwenga did not name names Monday, his frank statement came a week after President Robert Mugabe fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, an influential independence leader who has held various high-ranking positions in the government.

Related: Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe: My rival used witchcraft against me

"The current purging which is clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background must stop forthwith," Chiwenga said at a news conference at the army's headquarters in Harare, according to BBC News.

"We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in," he added.

GettyImages-873637260 Zimbabwe Army General Constantino Chiwenga, commander of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces, addresses a media conference held at the Zimbabwean Army Headquarters on November 13, 2017 in Harare. Chiwenga demanded a 'stop' to the purge in the ruling ZANU-PF party after the sacking of vice president Emmerson Mnangangwa, and warned the military could intervene. JEKESAI NJIKIZANA/AFP/Getty Images

Mugabe suddenly sacked Mnangagwa last week after accusing his deputy of conspiring against him and using witchcraft to determine when the president would die. Two days later, Mnangagwa fled Wednesday to South Africa, complaining of "incessant threats" against him and his family, Bloomberg News reported.

Mnangagwa has denied taking part in any plots against the president, whose wife, Grace Mugabe, had recently suggested she could succeed her 93-year-old husband. With Mnangagwa gone, Grace Mugabe was anticipated to inherit her husband's 37-year rule.

The jobs of other officials who worked under Mnangagwa were reportedly on the line as well. Minister for State Security Kembo Mohadi, Home Affairs Deputy Minister Obedingwa Mguni, provincial chairman Rabelani Choeni, Central Committee members Reni Kibi, Tambudzani Mohadi, Abednigo Ncube and others close to Mnangagwa have been placed under investigation and will not be permitted to participate in next year's elections, Zimbabwe's The Herald reported.

RTS1J2MI President Robert Mugabe listens to his wife Grace Mugabe at a rally of his ruling ZANU-PF party in Harare, Zimbabwe, November 8, 2017. With Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa fired, 52-year-old Grace Mugabe was set to replace her 93-year-old husband after 37 years in power. Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters

Mnangagwa's dismissal has upset many current and former military figures, who have viewed Grace Mugabe's younger faction of support with distrust. In addition to being vice president, Mnangagwa headed Zimbabwe's Joint Operations Command, of which Chiwenga was a member and the general's comments signaled a community alienated by the president's recent decisions.

Robert Mugabe has already announced his intentions to seek another five-year term in Zimbabwe's 2018 elections, but he may face a handful of rising stars and a potential seven-party coalition attempting to challenge one of the longest political tenures of the past century. The last election in 2013 was criticized by Zimbabwe's opposition and international agencies over reports of irregularities and opponents of the president blame him and his party for decades of corruption and massive economic mismanagement.

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