Thursday 13 December 2018

Mugabe to meet with army chief on his future as Zimbabweans call for him to quit

A dynasty thwarted: Robert and Grace Mugabe. Photo: Reuters
A dynasty thwarted: Robert and Grace Mugabe. Photo: Reuters
Protesters demanding President Robert Mugabe stand down, look up and cheer as an army helicopter flies over the crowd, as they gather in front of an army cordon on the road leading to State House in Harare, Zimbabwe Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Zimbabwean women demanding President Robert Mugabe stands down march towards State House in Harare, Zimbabwe Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
A man calling for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to step down protests in Harare, Zimbabwe November 18, 2017. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
Zimbabweans gather outside the Zimbabwe Embassy in London, to demonstrate in support of the ousting of President Robert Mugabe. Photo: Ben Stevens/PA Wire

Christopher Torchia and Farai Mutsaka

Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe is to meet with the military commanders who put him under house arrest as their talks continue on the longtime leader's expected departure.

On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators rallied in Zimbabwe's capital to call for the 93-year-old to quit immediately after nearly four decades in power.

People in Harare clambered on to tanks and other military vehicles moving slowly through the crowds, danced around soldiers walking in city streets and surged in their thousands towards State House, Mr Mugabe's official residence.

"The common enemy is Robert Mugabe. That's for starters," said 37-year-old Talent Mudzamiri, an opposition supporter who was born soon after Zimbabwe's independence.

Zimbabweans gather outside the Zimbabwe Embassy in London, to demonstrate in support of the ousting of President Robert Mugabe. Photo: Ben Stevens/PA Wire
Zimbabweans gather outside the Zimbabwe Embassy in London, to demonstrate in support of the ousting of President Robert Mugabe. Photo: Ben Stevens/PA Wire

He had a warning for whoever takes over Zimbabwe: "If the next leader does the same, we are going to come out again."

Many Zimbabweans believe the most likely candidate will be a former vice president with close military ties whose dismissal by Mr Mugabe triggered the intervention of the armed forces, which sent troops and tanks into the streets this week, effectively taking over the country.

The increasing presidential ambitions of Mr Mugabe's wife Grace, a polarising figure who denounced Mr Mnangagwa amid a factional battle within the ruling ZANU-PF party, alarmed those who feared a dynastic succession.

At the Harare rallies, signs denounced "Gucci Grace", a reference to the first lady's record of high-end shopping expeditions outside Zimbabwe, which suffered hyperinflation in the past and is currently struggling with a cash shortage and massive unemployment.

A man calling for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to step down protests in Harare, Zimbabwe November 18, 2017. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
A man calling for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to step down protests in Harare, Zimbabwe November 18, 2017. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

The discussions over Mr Mugabe's fate come ahead of a key ruling party congress next month, as well as scheduled elections next year.

The president, who is believed to be staying at his private home in Harare, a well-guarded compound known as the Blue Roof, is reported to have asked for more time in office.

He has been deserted by most of his allies, with others arrested. The ruling party has turned on him, asking for a Central Committee meeting this weekend to recall both him and his wife, who heads the women's league of the party. Impeachment is also a possibility when Parliament resumes on Tuesday.

Even as concerns remained about who next would be in charge and what freedoms might be available if the military lingers in power - or if Mr Mugabe's recently fired deputy leads a new government - people revelled on Saturday in the rare chance to express themselves freely.

Zimbabwean women demanding President Robert Mugabe stands down march towards State House in Harare, Zimbabwe Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)
Zimbabwean women demanding President Robert Mugabe stands down march towards State House in Harare, Zimbabwe Saturday, Nov. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis)

Some marchers had posters with an image of the military commander who swept in to take control, with the slogan: "Go, go, our general!!!" Demonstrators handed flags to soldiers, who accepted and waved.

"It's like Christmas," said one marcher, Fred Mubay, who said Zimbabweans have been suffering for a long time.

Veterans of the long war against white minority rule, once close allies of Mr Mugabe, took part in the demonstration, along with opposition activists who long have faced police crackdowns by the Mugabe government. Thousands gathered for speeches at the Zimbabwe Grounds, where Zimbabweans assembled to cheer Mr Mugabe's return from exile in 1980 after the liberation war.

Press Association

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