Zimbabwe latest: Mugabe seeks to cling on to power by declaring himself only 'legitimate' leader

Opposition leaders are gathering in Harare as army looks to push on with transition – with locals waiting for military to lay out their plans

Kim Sengupta
Friday 17 November 2017 00:07
Zimbabwe's 'military takeover' explained

“Grace Mugabe belongs in prison: her only contribution to Zimbabwe has been to be the centre of scandals. She must face a court for what she has done. We have waited very long for justice and the time for that has come now," declared Joshua Nhamburu as his companions, fellow veterans of the war which freed the country from white rule, shook their heads in agreement.

The anger towards ‘Gucci Grace’ and ‘DisGrace’, as she has been called by her many critics for, among other things, her profligate spending on luxuries as the country turned into an economic basket case, was an example of the passions simmering in Zimbabwe as Robert Mugabe’s reign as Africa’s longest serving head of state comes to an end.

The President’s opponents, the politicians and the military who have now taken over, have taken pleasure in declaring that it has taken just 36 hours to end 37 years of Robert Mugabe’s grip on power. Mr Mugabe, his wife and some of their most senior supporters are under house arrest at the palatial presidential residence, Blue Roof, others are incarcerated in army barracks.

But in a fast paced day of tension and drama Mr Mugabe was making a last ditch attempt to cling on to power. He rejected a proposal under which he would step down allowing Emmerson Mnangagwa, nicknamed "The Crocodile" and a bitter opponent of Grace Mugabe, who was sacked earlier this month as vice-president, to take over temporarily until elections due to be held next year.

But the President, described as angry and embittered, insisted he remains the legitimate head of state. And, if he were to leave sometime in the future, there must be guarantees: he is said to have demanded that there would be immunity from prosecution for his 52 year old wife and other members of his family if he was to leave in the future.

The Zimbabwean President held talks with coup leader General Constantino Chiwenga (far right) yesterday

Whether General Constantino Chiwenga, the head of the military and his high command, who have taken over the country, would agree to the President’s conditions over prosecution remains unclear. There are growing calls for charges to be made against Ms Mugabe and her cohort for alleged embezzlement and abuse - charges Ms Mugabe has denied.

The military issued photographs of Mr Mugabe in talks with General Chiwenga. This afternoon Mr Mugabe was moved, according to unconfirmed reports, to his official residence, State House. It was unclear whether Ms Mugabe and others were with him or whether he was later returned to Blue Roof.

Among those detained are Kudzai Chipenga, Youth Wing chief, who had vowed that his cadres would mobilise to "fight and die" if necessary to defend the President and his wife against a coup. He is being held at the same military base as finance minister Ignatius Chombo, another Grace Mugabe favourite, who has faced accusations of corruption.

Not all attempts at arrests have been peaceful. The home of Mr Chombo in the affluent suburb of Borrowdale, empty this afternoon, was pitted in bullet holes, with the front door blown in. One of his bodyguards was killed in a firefight, according to neighbours. Mr Moyo’s home also showed signs of damage caused by explosives as did that of Saviour Kasukuwere, a former Zanu PF youth leader nicknamed ‘Tyson’. Mr Moyo and Mr Kasukuwere evaded capture, fleeing to seek refuge with the Mugabes in Blue Roof.

Zimbabwe military issues statement on state of President Mugabe

The ongoing crisis has led to deep concern in neighbouring states and the African Union. South Africa’s defence and state security ministers, Nosiviwe Maphisa–Nqakula and Bongani Bongo were dispatched to mediate between the imprisoned President and the armed forces. The Catholic Church delegated a priest, Father Fidelis Mukonori, who is close to Mr Mugabe, to act as an intermediary.

Jacob Zuma had spoken on the telephone to Mr Mugabe who, said the South African President, told him that “he was confined, but otherwise fine”. Mr Zuma told his country's parliament that the political situation “very shortly will be becoming clear”. Alpha Conde, the president of Guinea and the current head of the African Union, said that what has happened in Zimbabwe appears to be a military coup, something the organisation adamantly opposed. He and Angolan leader Joao Lourenco are being kept apprised of plans to end the confrontation. Britain, the former colonial power of what was Rhodesia, and a strong critic of Mr Mugabe, has called for calm.

Cabinet ministers from four countries in the 15-nation Southern African Development Community have called for an emergency summit to discuss the political turmoil in Zimbabwe, and is also expected to talk about potential terms of Mr Mugabe's exit.

The momentum is swinging against Mr Mugabe by the hour. Opponents who had fled into exile are returning to stake their claim on the new political landscape.

Morgan Tsvangirai, who had a power sharing agreement with Mr Mugabe in the past, flew back to Harare demanding the President’s departure. “In the interest of the people, Mr Robert Mugabe must resign, immediately,” he insisted. This, he continued, should be followed by the setting up of a transitional administration of different parties. Joice Mujuru, fired as vice-president in 2014, called for elections as soon as possible. Meanwhile Youth leader Mr Chipanga read out a statement on state television, surrounded by soldiers, apologising for “insulting the army”.

Representatives of both Mr Tsvangirai and Ms Mujuru are believed to be holding talks with the head of the military, General Chiwenga, and the high command. The troops on tanks and roadblocks in Harare seemed, for the time being at least, to avoid confrontation; polite and friendly while carrying out searches. Asked how long they expected to be on the streets a sergeant in a mechanised armour unit said: “Have patience, things are being decided, there will be a solution soon.”

But the long suffering public may not accept deals which will replace one set of establishment politicians being replaced by another. Pastor Evan Mawarire, whose #ThisFlag social media campaign inspired huge protests last year asked: “Should we just sit and wait or shall we at least be part of this transition process? I think we should be.”

Joshua Nhamburu and his fellow veterans were also demanding action. At a meeting of Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, Secretary General Victor Matemadanda said full support should be given to the military who needed to rectify purges carried out by the “cabal” that Mr Mugabe had allowed to grow around him. “It was,” he concluded to applause, “definitely a time for change.”

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