Robert Mugabe’s reign as one of Africa’s longest-serving heads of state appears to be nearing an end, with a massive crowd laying siege to his home in Zimbabwe’s capital and strong indications that his party is poised to dismiss him.
The hierarchy of the ruling Zanu-PF are due to meet as early as Sunday morning, it is believed, to begin the process of formally removing Mr Mugabe from office and reinstating Emmerson Mnangagwa, the recently sacked Vice President who has returned from exile in South Africa following the military coup six days ago.
The meeting of Zanu-PF central committee is also due to fire Grace Mugabe, the President’s wife and a deeply divisive figure who has faced scathing criticism for her lavish lifestyle in this deeply impoverished country, from her post as the head of the party’s women’s league. Mrs Mugabe is widely believed to have instigated the sacking of Mr Mnangagwa, which was the catalyst of the current crisis and army takeover.
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Mr Mugabe will still remain titular President under the country’s constitution even after his party’s move against him. But his ability to govern has ended with the military coup, and the projected action by Zanu-PF leaves him without a power base and totally isolated. He is due to meet General Constantino Chiwenga, the head of the Zimbabwean military who had led the putsch, on Sunday with a senior official insisting that “a solution to the problem was imminent”.
Branch after branch of the party had voted for motions of no confidence in Mr Mugabe in the last 24 hours, triggering the numbers needed to begin impeachment proceedings by MPs. On Friday evening, it has emerged, the 93-year-old President made a desperate attempt to cling on by seeking to suspend parliament. But National Assembly speaker Jacob Mudenda refused the President’s demands and, according to officials, senior Zanu-PF figures began talks with opposition parties to agree on a course of action.
The outpouring of protest against the Mugabes in Harare on Saturday, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets, was a sign for Zanu-PF to move at speed, calling an extraordinary meeting of the central committee at 10.30am on Sunday. General Chiwenga is said to have given his backing as Mr Mnangagwa prepared himself for inauguration.
A motorcade left State House, the presidential residence in Harare, in the afternoon. It is not known whether Mr Mugabe and his wife were being escorted out. Their fate remains unclear and there have been demands that Mrs Mugabe, nicknamed “Gucci Grace” and “DisGrace” by her many enemies, should face trial on charges of corruption and abuse of power. But the more likely scenario would be for them both to go into exile when he steps down from office.
There were cheers and car horns began to sound as news began to filter out that Mr Mugabe’s 37-year rule may be coming to an end. “Is this really true? I am glad I am alive to see this take place,” exclaimed 68-year-old Mercy Zikhali. “This news would have been impossible even a few weeks ago, so it is difficult to accept it. We had so much hope after independence, but Mugabe and his people ruined the country. I hope that I will see a big improvement for us in my remaining years, and at least my children and grandchildren have a good future”.
The rally was called by the association of veterans of the war against white rule. The original plan had been for demonstrators to gather at the city’s Freedom Square, but soldiers asked them to go on to Harare stadium at the outskirts of the city. It was a far bigger venue, but also symbolic. This was the place where another huge crowd had gathered 37 years ago to welcome Mr Mugabe on his return from exile following independence.
Mrs Zikhali’s nephew, Washington Chando, remembered being taken to the stadium that day, at the age of 10, by his parents. “Everyone thought he was a hero. I remember that day people were crying, but everything began to get worse after a while. I haven’t been able to find any permanent work for the last nine years, we have all had a very negative experience while people like Mrs Mugabe have got richer and richer.”
Christopher Mutsvangwa, the head of the veterans organisation, claimed that the President had been warned by the army during the height of the rally that they may not be willing to protect him and his family.
“The army gave the dictator a message earlier today – either he steps down or they will let the people into his mansion to take him,” Mr Mutsvangwa stated. “The army is threatening to unleash the people and let Mugabe be lynched. The generals said they will not shoot the people for him. Instead, they will abandon their posts and leave him to his fate.”
But the troops did stop the crowd when it reached State House in the afternoon, leading to remonstrations and a sit-in protest. Last night the property was being heavily guarded although it was far from clear how much longer there will be anyone left to protect those inside.