Zimbabwe's ruling party is reportedly facing an unprecedented mutiny by the head of the armed forces, as troops take up positions in the capital in an escalation of a dispute with 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe.
South African President Jacob Zuma, who is reportedly readying an envoy to mediate the situation, said Mugabe is "fine" and urged for "calm and restraint."
Zuma, who contacted the embattled Mugabe, said the latter was "confined to his home." The South African leader also contacted the Zimbabwean Defence Force, ZDF, according to a statement cited by the BBC.
Opposition Member of Parliament, Eddie Cross, told BBC that First Lady Grace Mugabe may have fled to Namibia.
According to earlier reports from the capital, Harare, explosions were heard in the streets as troops and armored military vehicles moved throughout the city.
The U.S. embassy reduced its staff due to the "uncertainty" of the country's climate.
While Zimbabwe's trade partner, China, says it is closely monitoring the ongoing situation.
Soldiers took over the headquarters of Zimbabwe's ZBC state broadcaster in the early hours of Wednesday, two members of staff and a human rights worker said. Some ZBC members of staff were manhandled when soldiers occupied the premises, the sources said.
Hours before the takeover of ZBC's evening news bulletin was an anti-military rally by the youth wing of Mugabe's ZANU-PF party.
The unfolding events come scarcely a day after military chief General Constantino Chiwenga threatened to intervene to end a purge in the ruling party.
There remains no evidence to suggest Zimbabwe's leader of the last 37 years had been toppled, nor have there been any statements from Mugabe's office.
Zimbabwe’s ambassador to South Africa dismissed talk of a coup against 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe earlier Tuesday, saying the government in Harare was “intact” despite the presence of soldiers on the streets of the capital.
“There’s nothing really happening. They are just social media claims,” ambassador Isaac Moyo told Reuters, in the first official government response since rumors of a military coup against Mugabe surfaced in the afternoon.
Mugabe chaired a weekly cabinet meeting in the capital on Tuesday. Afterwards, ZANU-PF said it stood by the "primacy of politics over the gun" and accused Chiwenga of "treasonable conduct ... calculated to disturb national peace ... (and) incite insurrection."
Mugabe fired Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa last week. The veteran of the 1970s liberation war was popular with the military and had been seen as a likely successor to Mugabe.
The army views his removal as part of a purge of independence-era figures to pave the way for Mugabe to hand power to his wife Grace Mugabe.
Witnesses said they saw four armored vehicles turn before reaching Harare and head towards the Presidential Guard compound in a suburb on the outskirts of Harare.
"There were about four tanks and they turned right here, you can see markings on the road," one witness on the Chinhoyi highway said, referring to the armored vehicles. He pointed to a road that links to the guard compound.
The troop movements raise tension on a continent where for decades armies regularly overthrew civilian governments.
Neither the president nor his wife responded in public to the general's remarks and state media did not publish Chiwenga's statement. The Herald newspaper posted some of the comments on its Twitter page but deleted them.
The head of ZANU-PF's youth wing accused the army chief of subverting the constitution. Grace Mugabe has developed a strong following in the powerful youth wing.
"Defending the revolution and our leader and president is an ideal we live for and if need be it is a principle we are prepared to die for," Kudzai Chipanga, who leads the ZANU-PF Youth League, said at the party's headquarters in Harare.
"It is our country and future at stake and we will not let any individual military man interfere with the leader of the party and legitimately voted president of this country," he continued.
Grace Mugabe's rise has brought her into conflict with the independence-era war veterans, who once enjoyed a privileged role in the ruling party under Mugabe, but who have in recent years been banished from senior government and party roles.
During his comments, Chiwenga said that the purges were "clearly targeting members of the party with a liberation background."
"We must remind those behind the current treacherous shenanigans that when it comes to matters of protecting our revolution, the military will not hesitate to step in."
According to AFP there have been shots fired near Mugabe's residence.