Robert Mugabe has been 'neutralised': Zimbabwe's military take control

Robert Mugabe has been 'neutralised', according to a prominent campaigner in Zimbabwe hours after a military take over that has the hallmarks of a coup.

The 93-year-old leader who has been in charge for 37 years remains in detention as army leaders say they are trying to remove 'criminals' surrounding the president. The move appears to be an attempt to replace the entrenched figure with his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was sacked last week and prevent Mugabe's wife, Grace, from taking power.

Ben Freeth, a former farmer in Zimbabwe who rose to prominence when he took Mugabe to court in 2007 over attempts to seize his land, spoke to Christian Today from Harare describing mass military presence at the airport, in the centre of town and on all the major roads.

Uncertainty has been brewing since Monday when Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces, said he was prepared to "step in" to end a purge of supporters of sacked vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa.Reuters

'It is quite an interesting situation we have woken up to this morning,' he said.

Ben Freeth is executive director of the Mike Campbell Foundation that works to promote the rule of law in Zimbabwe. He featured in the award-winning 2009 documentary film 'Mugabe and the White African'.Mike Campbell Foundation

'The first time I realised that something had actually happened was this morning when a friend of mine messaged to say he had heard shots at 2.15am this morning at the residence where Mugabe and his wife Grace live.'

The government-controlled national radio station has been taken over by army chiefs, he added, and is transmitting messages from them.

Numerous road blocks are in place and controlled by the military, he said, as the army do not want people to be travelling unless they have to.

'It appears that Mugabe has been neutralised. Whether they will keep him as a figure head because they realise there will be no constitutionality for any regime they put in place we will see,' he told Christian Today. Whatever Mugabe's future it is likely to be the end of his dominance. 

'I cannot see it coming back to normality for a while. The military will take control,' said Freeth.

Zimbabweans in Harare told Freeth they are unsure about whether this is positive or not for the country that has been haunted by economic ruin with inflation at one stage in 2007-08 reaching 500 billion per cent. In the last year, a chronic absence of dollars has led to long queues outside banks and a financial collapse that many fear will rival the meltdown ten years ago.

A youth cleans a minibus adorned with a portrait of the 97-year-old leader.Reuters

'Everyone is silently hopefully that this will lead to some sort of change but no one knows what that change will be,' he said.

'Everyone is worried about Grace and her people who ride roughshod over everyone, including in their own party.

'If Mugabe is out of the equation maybe there will be change but it is the same people with the same blood on their hands and the same records of corruption and mismanagement,' he said.

Will this mean more freedom of expression in Zimbabwe?

'Certainly not at the stage.'

He added: 'I think the big question is, in a situation where the military are in control, how can you keep discipline when we are without law? Will incidents of ill-discipline be punished or will it just become worse?'

Long queues stretch outside banks in Harare as people try to withdraw money on Wednesday.Reuters

Read the latest updates about the military take over here.