Photos Show Years of Oppression in Zimbabwe Before 'Coup'

President Robert Mugabe was recently taken into custody, but his rule has been marred by turmoil for decades.

Published 16 Nov 2017, 11:05 GMT

Early Wednesday morning, the U.S. embassy warned citizens in Zimbabwe to stay indoors to stay safe from the political storm unfolding within the country.

Overnight, the country's military put Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife under house arrest. According to reporting from Reuters, armored vehicles were also blocking roads to various government buildings.

Following the display of military action, soldiers reportedly took control of broadcast company ZBC. Speaking into the camera, Major General Sibusiso Moyo claimed that sitting Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe was "safe and sound."

"We are targeting criminals around him that are causing social and economic suffering in the country," Moyo said, reading from written remarks. He claimed the country would return to normal after their mission was accomplished.

The military went further, claiming that no coup had been staged. Rather, the military said it was staging a "correction."

It's currently unclear if a coup has in fact occurred or is underway—a coup is usually defined as an event in which a head of state and/or ruling party is forcibly removed from power. Whether or not Mugabe will return to power remains to be seen. But the current situation has many hallmarks of a coup, according to the BBC.

As of this morning, state TV had resumed normal programming, but the country's political future is uncertain.

This week's events are thought to have been triggered by Mugabe's decision last week to fire his longstanding vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa was considered a viable option to assume 93-year-old Mugabe's position, but his firing paved the way for his wife, Grace Mugabe, to take power.

Zimbabwe has been marred by turmoil for decades. For younger generations, Mugabe is the only leader they've ever known.

Documenting Turmoil

In 2013, photographer Robin Hammond documented Zimbabwe for a National Geographic magazine expose called "Breaking the Silence." His photos showed the disquiet simmering under Mugabe's rule. The leader and his party, the Zimbabwe African National Union—Patriotic Front, have for decades, Hammond said, crushed opposition and dissent.

"I would call him a dictator, yes," said Hammond, when asked if he believed Mugabe could be classified as such.

From the years he spent documenting what he calls the country's silent war, Hammond's lasting impression of the country is one that has so much unrealized potential. Zimbabwe has an abundance of natural resources that, half a century ago, seemed poised to launch the nation toward a prosperous future.

Tumultuous History

Previously subject to British colonialism, the country once encompassed a region known as Rhodesia. Zimbabwe as it exists today took shape in the late 1970s, when Mugabe and his ruling party negotiated peace deals. Mugabe was officially elected to power in 1980, and he has been one of the longest-ruling heads of state in the modern world.

An often-unstable economy since the 1980s has caused long-term economic decline. Many of those who had the means to leave have fled in search of better economic opportunity. Many of those who stayed have been living in poverty.

Previous political opposition parties have surfaced over the years, but they've either been quelled by the ruling party or too unorganized to be a viable candidate, Hammond said.

"My prediction is, sadly, that we might be in for more of the same," he said.

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