Zimbabwe under coup: ‘So far it’s life as normal’

Irishman Joseph Woods says that, despite WhatsApp photographs of tanks, all is calm

Joseph Woods in Harare: ‘Generally it is a fairly peaceful place.’

Joseph Woods in Harare: ‘Generally it is a fairly peaceful place.’

 

Zimbabwe’s military seized control of the country on Wednesday, but for one Irishman and his family, life in Harare is continuing as usual.

Overnight on Tuesday, the Zimbabwean military announced on the national broadcaster that it had temporarily taken control in order to “target criminals” surrounding the country’s president Robert Mugabe.

But according to Joseph Woods, besides the television announcement and some military helicopters flying overhead, there was little else to indicate the situation had escalated.

“Everyone in Zimbabwe goes to bed very early so it wasn’t the optimum time for a statement,” he says.

Woods, who is originally from Drogheda, moved to Zimbabwe almost two years ago for his wife’s work with an Irish NGO based there. They live in a suburb outside of Harare with their young daughter.

She attends an international school, which was closed on Wednesday, but local schools remained open. Despite some initial uncertainty as to what was happening overnight, Woods and his family have not experienced any problems so far.

Armoured personnel carriers

“Yesterday evening, pictures started to come through on WhatsApp of tanks coming from all directions, and the armoured personnel carriers, and nobody was very clear as to what was going to happen,” he says.

“There’s a group here called the Irish Association of Mashonaland, a very old expat group, which was really useful in terms of information. There’s no Irish embassy here, but the embassy in Pretoria was connecting with that group. They said to be careful and stay at home if you can.”

Zimbabwe’s military was in control of the country on Wednesday as the president said he was under house arrest, although generals denied staging a coup. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images
Zimbabwe’s military was in control of the country on Wednesday as the president said he was under house arrest, although generals denied staging a coup. Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

The vast majority of activity appears to be in the downtown area, according to Woods, and hasn’t trickled out to the suburbs.

“I’m hesitant to say this, because of past events, but generally it’s a fairly peaceful kind of place. The people are very calm and very easygoing and polite. Generally, people are very respectful of the law. The feeling on the ground is, this is not to unseat Mugabe – it’s to unseat the idea of his wife ever getting into power.

“There’s been so much faction fighting within the main party. The sacking of the vice-president last week was the final straw. I think people have underestimated how powerful he can be even in exile. It’s early days yet, but that’s the feeling.”

‘Wait and see’

Woods has not received any information of what to expect in the coming days. “It’s very much wait and see at the moment. People are just saying to be cautious.”

While Woods and his family have not yet been directly affected by the activity in Harare, concern has spread among the expatriate community in the country.

“There were a few concerns on the WhatsApp group today about the airport. We’re going on our holiday to Zanzibar on Saturday, but from what I’m hearing, it’s business as usual at the airport. There are searches by soldiers, they’re checking vehicles, but apparently the soldiers are really polite and there’s no hassle or any aggression.”

This is Woods’s second experience of a coup in recent years, having been in Thailand in 2014 when the Thai army overthrew the caretaker government after several months of political turmoil. This one is a little different, he says, as “in Thailand, coups are like bank holidays”.