Zimbabwe’s army appears to be pushing for a quick and bloodless end to 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe’s 37 years in power, to be replaced by a national unity government headed by his former deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
According to political sources in Harare, Mugabe - now under house arrest in his lavish Harare home - was resisting pressure to stand down voluntarily.
Assuming he does, the following are likely to be key players in the expected settlement, according to political sources in Zimbabwe and South Africa and several years of Zimbabwean intelligence documents seen by Reuters:
EMMERSON MNANGAGWA (LIKELY PRESIDENT) - A lifelong Mugabe aide and 1970s liberation war veteran known as “The Crocodile”, Mnangagwa, 75, was in the pole position to succeed Mugabe until his progress was impeded by the dramatic political ascent of Mugabe’s wife, Grace.
His sacking as vice-president this month cleared a path for Grace to the presidency and appears to have been the trigger for the army to step in to advance its preferred successor.
MORGAN TSVANGIRAI (LIKELY PRIME MINISTER) - A former union leader who founded the Movement for Democratic Change in the late 1990s, Tsvangirai, 65, has been Mugabe’s main political rival for two decades.
He served as prime minister in a 2009-2013 unity government formed after violence-ridden elections in 2008. Tsvangirai has been undergoing treatment for cancer outside Zimbabwe but returned to Harare late on Wednesday.
CONSTANTINO CHIWENGA (POSSIBLE VICE-PRESIDENT) - As the military chief who pulled the trigger on the coup, Chiwenga is expected to win a senior role in the interim administration.
Chiwenga, 61, who has served in the armed forces since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, was sanctioned by the United States and European Union although the latter removed him from its list of restricted individuals in 2014.
JOICE MUJURU (POSSIBLE VICE-PRESIDENT) - A liberation war veteran with the nom de guerre “Spill Blood”, Mujuru, 62, formed her own political party after being ousted as vice-president in 2014.
Her husband, Solomon Mujuru, a general who died in suspicious circumstances in 2011, was regarded as one of the most feared men in Zimbabwe and one of the few people capable of challenging Mugabe.
DUMISO DABENGWA (POSSIBLE VICE-PRESIDENT) - Moscow-trained Dabengwa, 77, nicknamed “The Black Russian”, fought in the 1970s anti-colonial struggle for ZIPRA (Zimbabwe People’s Liberation Army), a rival to Mugabe’s ZANLA (Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army).
His incorporation in any unity government would ensure it represented both wings of the liberation struggle.
TENDAI BITI (POSSIBLE FINANCE MINISTER) - A lawyer by training, Biti, 51, won international plaudits as finance minister in the 2009-2013 government that stabilised the imploding economy.
He told Reuters he would be happy to reprise this role if Tsvangirai, his former political mentor, was on board.