In Depth

Robert Mugabe defiant as deadline approaches

Zimbabwe’s long-serving President has until noon today to resign or face impeachment

Despite a defiant address to his country, Robert Mugabe’s four decades as leader of Zimbabwe could come to an end today, after his party stripped him of its leadership and gave him until noon to step down or face impeachment.

Reuters says the ultimatum is “an attempt to force a peaceful end to his 37 years in power after a de facto coup”.

But hopes that he would go quietly were dented last night when Mugabe insisted that action by the Zimbabwe Defence Force had no bearing on his leadership. His “party congress is due in a few weeks”, he said, “and I will preside over its processes”.

 Sources had told CNN that Mugabe was expected to step down to make way for an interim president ahead of presidential elections next year. 

“It was not clear last night whether Mr Mugabe’s speech had been written by the party and he had chosen to ignore the part that referred to his resignation,” says The Times. “He appeared to lose sheets of paper.” 

Others suggested that a deal may have unravelled. Any hope of securing a pardon for his wife, Grace, appeared to have been thwarted after a Zanu-PF official told Al Jazeera that she would be prosecuted for “taking advantage of her husband’s frail condition and abusing the resources of the country”.

Grace Mugabe, who had until last week been seen as the power behind the throne lined up to replace her husband, was also expelled by the party on Sunday and is believed to be under house arrest somewhere in Harare.

Party manoeuvres

On Saturday, Mugabe was removed as leader of Zanu-PF by former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose own dismissal two weeks ago led to the military coup. The party said he must stand down as President by noon today, or it would begin an impeachment process.

The announcement of the 93-year-old’s removal “was greeted with prolonged applause, singing and dancing by senior figures of the party - a scene which would have been unthinkable even a few weeks ago when the President still bestrode the power structure of this country”, reports The Independent.

In what The Sunday Times’s Christina Lamb said “felt like a revolution”, hundreds of thousands of people descended on the capital Harare over the weekend, calling for the President to go.

With Mugabe deserted by even his staunchest allies, the army and veterans of the liberation war who had helped to rig successive elections, “suddenly the fear is gone”, says Lamb. She adds that “young and old, opposition activists and party apparatchiks, white farmers and black war veterans, housewives and their maids” are all uniting to celebrate the end of the Mugabe regime.

The huge crowds in the capital “have given a quasi-democratic veneer to the army’s intervention”, says Reuters, “backing its assertion that it is merely effecting a constitutional transfer of power, rather than a plain coup, which would entail a diplomatic backlash”.

Foreign powers have also “largely supported the military’s actions so far, with few international voices condemning its apparent coup,” says CNN.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on the army to show restraint but described the situation in Zimbabwe as an “opportunity” for the country.

If Mugabe is removed from power, his downfall is likely to have repercussions across Africa, where a number of entrenched strongmen, from Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni to Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila, are facing mounting pressure to quit.

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