“What the Zimbabwe Defense Forces is doing is to pacify a degenerating political, social and economic situation in our country, which if not addressed may result in a violent conflict,” the uniformed man said, urging the public to remain calm but “limit unnecessary movement.”
The broadcast follows eyewitness reports of around 100 troops on the streets outside of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, amid rising tensions between Mugabe and key military leaders.
Mnangagwa had previously been considered most likely to succeed Mugabe if the president stepped down or died in office. His sudden dismissal cleared the way for 93-year-old Mugabe to appoint his wife, Grace, to the position, prompting widespread discontent among formerly loyalist supporters.
The unidentified soldier said the situation in the country “has moved to another level” and that he wished to assure the nation Mugabe and his family are safe and their security is “guaranteed.”
The man spoke of targeting “criminals” around the president who are “committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.”
“As soon as we accomplish our mission we expect situation to return to normalcy,” he said.
Former deputy Mnangagwa enjoys strong support among the country’s military and security establishment. A celebrated freedom fighter in the country’s liberation wars, the 75-year-old has since gone into hiding and his whereabouts are unknown.
The broadcast comes less than 48 hours after the nation’s army commander, Constantino Chiwenga, held a press conference in which he threatened to intervene should his political allies continue to be sidelined.
In response, Mugabe’s political party, Zanu-PF, accused Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct.”
Amid the increasing unrest, the United States and United Kingdom both issued warnings to their citizens inside Zimbabwe.
The State Department is encouraging Americans in the country to “shelter in place until further notice” due to reports of violence and ongoing political unrest, while the UK Foreign Office said it is “monitoring the situation closely” and advised people to avoid demonstrations and rallies.
The man in the broadcast told members of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces that all leave was canceled and soldiers were expected to return to their barracks immediately and urged the country’s other security services to cooperate for “the good of our country.”
“Let it be clear that we intend to address the human security threats in our country. Therefore, any provocation will be met with an appropriate response,” he said.
Mugabe, the longest serving leader in Africa, came to power in the 1980s after Zimbabwe liberation. He was initially revered as a Nelson Mandela-like independence advocate.
As that political momentum began to fade, Mugabe moved to quickly consolidate power using a combination of brutality and bribery, according to CNN’s Robyn Curnow, who has reported from the region for years.
The tactic has been effective. Mugabe, who has held power for more than two decades, remains the only leader many in the country have ever known.
“There has never been a coup. There has never been an attempted coup. Any threat to his power base has been by democratic opposition,” Curnow said.
Many analysts believe that the move by the President to sack his vice president, which gives Grace Mugabe a clearer path to the presidency, was a risky one.
Grace Mugabe is much younger than her husband and does not enjoy popular support, nor does she have the backing of he liberation-era party stalwarts.
“She’s become increasingly more desperate, she knew that once he died, she would be kicked out. She had to be installed into some institutional place so that she could seize power,” Curnow said.
While Robert Mugabe and Grace Mugabe haven’t responded directly to Chiwenga’s remarks, the Zanu-PF Youth League, a key ally of Grace Mugabe, slammed what they said was overreach by the military into political issues.
“Defending the revolution and our leader and President is an ideal we live for, and, if need be, is a principle we are prepared to die for,” Kudzai Chipanga, Zanu-PF’s secretary of youth affairs, told reporters early Tuesday.
CNN’s Euan McKirdy and Hilary Clarke contributed to this report.