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Anger in Zimbabwe as Mugabe clings to power

Zimbabweans watch a televised address to the nation by President Robert Mugabe at a bar in downtown Harare, Zimbabwe Sunday, Nov. 19, 2017.
AP Photo/Ben Curtis
The aging authoritarian bucked a wide expectation he would resign in a lengthy, ponderous speech

Robert Mugabe clung on as Zimbabwe's president Sunday, using national TV to insist he still holds power despite a military takeover and mounting pressure for his autocratic 37-year rule to end.

Crowds who gathered in bars and cafes in Harare to watch the address, which was widely expected would end in the 93-year-old's resignation, were left stunned and disconsolate. Some wept openly. 

"The (ruling ZANU-PF) party congress is due in a few weeks and I will preside over its processes," Mugabe said.

Earlier, sources told news agencies that he had agreed to fall on his sword after his own party threw the 93-year-old out and threatened to impeach him if he did not resign by midday Monday.

But Mugabe, sitting alongside the uniformed generals who were behind the military intervention, delivered a speech that suggested he was unfazed by the turmoil.

He said the military's operation "did not amount to a threat to our well-cherished constitutional order, nor was it a challenge to my authority as head of state and government."

"Whatever the pros and cons of how they (the army) went about their operation, I, as commander-in-chief, do acknowledge their concerns," said Mugabe.

"We must learn to forgive and resolve contradictions real or perceived in a comradely Zimbabwean spirit," he said.

His address provoked immediate anger, and raised concerns that Zimbabwe could be at risk of a violent reaction to the political tensions.

"That speech has nothing to do with realities. We will go for impeachment and we are calling people back to the streets," Chris Mutsvangwa, head of the influential war veterans' association, told AFP.

"People should go back on to the streets. This is not fair," said a security guard in Harare who declined to be named. 

Ditched by his base

AFP

Mugabe's grip on power was broken last week when the military took over, angered at his wife Grace's emergence as the leading candidate to succeed the 93-year-old president.

At a ruling ZANU-PF party meeting earlier in the day, delegates cheered wildly as a party official announced that Mugabe had been ousted as party chief.

Ex-vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose sacking by Mugabe two weeks earlier triggered a military takeover, has has been appointed the new party leader and will run as the party's presidential candidate in polls slated for 2018.

The jam-packed party meeting in Harare, which also expelled his wife Grace Mugabe, agreed that "Mugabe resign forthwith from his position as president of Zimbabwe" by midday Monday or face impeachment proceedings.

On Saturday, tens of thousands of overjoyed protesters flooded the streets of Zimbabwe in peaceful celebrations marking the apparent end of his long and authoritarian rule.

"We meet here today with a heavy heart," party official Obert Mpofu told the ZANU-PF meeting in Harare on Sunday, referring to Mugabe as "the outgoing president".

"(Mugabe's) wife and close associates have taken advantage of his frail condition to usurp power and loot state resources," he said.

"Our people are demanding... the recall of the president and first secretary of ZANU-PF from his position in the party."

Mugabe remains in office but now faces overwhelming opposition from the generals, much of the Zimbabwean public and from his own party.

The influential ZANU-PF Youth League on Sunday reversed its previous devotion to Mugabe, saying that he must resign and Grace must be expelled from the party.

Historic week

Jekesai NJIKIZANA (AFP/File)

The two sides first met on Thursday, smiling in photographs that attempted to present a dignified image of the tense process of negotiating Mugabe's departure.

Veterans of the independence war -- who were also formerly key Mugabe allies -- added their voice in support of him resigning, demanding that he leave office on Sunday.

The veterans' leader, Chris Mutsvangwa, told reporters earlier Sunday that if the president does not depart on his own, “we will bring back the crowds and they will do their business.”

Zimbabweans have experienced a historic week in which the military seized power and put Mugabe under house arrest in response to his sacking of vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, chief rival of Mugabe's powerful 52-year-old wife Grace.

On Saturday, in scenes of public euphoria not seen since Zimbabwe's independence in 1980, huge crowds marched and sang their way through Harare and other cities.

The demonstrations included citizens of all ages, jubilant that Mugabe appeared to be on his way out.

In central Harare, a group of young men tore down a green metal street sign bearing Robert Mugabe's name and smashed it repeatedly on the road.

Such open dissent would have just a week ago would have been routinely crushed by security forces.

Peace, jobs, a normal life

Cris Bouroncle (AFP/File)

"What you saw yesterday, it shows that the people have spoken," Mordecai Makore, 71, a retired teacher told AFP after attending Sunday morning service at the Catholic cathedral in central Harare.

"All we want is peace, a good life with a working economy that creates jobs for our people. We will continue praying for that. I want my children and grandchildren to live a normal good life."

The majority of Zimbabweans have only known life under Mugabe's rule, which has been defined by violent suppression, economic collapse and international isolation.

Sources suggest Mugabe has been battling to delay to his exit and to secure a deal guaranteeing future protection for him and his family.

He attended a university graduation ceremony on Friday, in a show of defiance at the talks with General Constantino Chiwenga, who led the military power grab.

The succession race that triggered Zimbabwe's sudden crisis was between party hardliner Mnangagwa -- known as the Crocodile -- and a group called "Generation 40" or "G40" because its members are generally younger, which campaigned for Grace's cause.

"She is very acceptable. Very much accepted by the people," Mugabe said of Grace in a faltering interview to mark his 93rd birthday last February.

The president, who is feted in parts of Africa as the continent's last surviving liberation leader, is increasingly fragile health, but previously said he would stand in elections next year that could see him remain in power until aged nearly 100.

He became prime minister on Zimbabwe's independence from Britain in 1980 and then president in 1987.

Zimbabwe's economic output has halved since 2000 when many white-owned farms were seized, leaving the key agricultural sector in ruins.

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