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Mugabe defies demands to quit as Zimbabwe's leader after party fires him

The leader of Zimbabwe’s liberation war veterans said plans to impeach Mugabe would now go ahead.

Former Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe (left) and his wife Grace Mugabe at a Zanu-PF rally on 8 November, 2017. Picture: AFP

HARARE - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Sunday defied his own Zanu-PF party and hundreds of thousands of protesters demanding his resignation by pledging in a television address to preside over the party’s next congress in December.

Two sources, one a senior member of the government, the other familiar with talks with leaders of the military, had told Reuters Mugabe would use the address to announce his resignation after Zanu-PF earlier sacked him as its leader in a step precipitated by an army takeover four days earlier.

But in the speech from his official residence, sitting alongside a row of generals, Mugabe acknowledged criticisms from Zanu-PF, the military and the public, but made no mention of his own position, instead pledging to preside over the Zanu-PF congress scheduled for next month.

Zanu-PF had given the 93-year-old, who led his country to indepndence in 1980, less than 24 hours to quit as head of state or face impeachment, an attempt to secure a peaceful end to his tenure after a de facto military coup.

The leader of Zimbabwe’s liberation war veterans said plans to impeach Mugabe would now go ahead.

Chris Mutsvangwa, who has been leading a campaign to oust Mugabe, told Reuters in a text message moment after Mugabe finished his speech that people would take to the streets of Harare on Wednesday.

Zanu-PF’s central committee had earlier named Emmerson Mnangagwa as its new leader. It was Mugabe’s sacking of Mnangagwa as his vice-president, to pave the way for his wife Grace to succeed him, that triggered the army’s intervention.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of the capital Harare to celebrate Mugabe’s downfall and hail a new era for their country.

'READY TO DIE'

On Saturday, men, women and children ran alongside the armoured cars and troops who stepped in to target what the army called “criminals” in Mugabe’s inner circle.

Meanwhile, the man himself remained under house arrest in his lavish “Blue Roof” compound, watching the support from his party, security services and people evaporate.

Speaking from a secret location in South Africa, his nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, told Reuters Mugabe and his wife were “ready to die for what is correct” rather than step down in order to legitimise what he described as a coup.

Zhuwao, who was also sanctioned by Zanu-PF, did not answer his phone on Sunday. However, Mugabe’s son Chatunga railed against those who had pushed out his father.

“You can’t fire a Revolutionary leader!” he wrote on this Facebook page. “Zanu-PF is nothing without President Mugabe.”

'SECOND LIBERATION'

On Harare’s streets, few seemed to care about the legal niceties as they heralded a “second liberation” and spoke of their dreams for political and economic change after two decades of deepening repression and hardship.

More than 3 million Zimbabweans - around 20% of the population - have emigrated to neighbouring South Africa in search of a better life.

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

Despite the euphoria, some Mugabe opponents are uneasy about the prominent role played by the military, and fear Zimbabwe might be swapping one army-backed autocrat for another, rather than allowing the people to choose their next leader.

“The real danger of the current situation is that having got their new preferred candidate into State House, the military will want to keep him or her there, no matter what the electorate wills,” former education minister David Coltart said.

The United States, a longtime Mugabe critic, said it was looking forward to a new era in Zimbabwe, while President Ian Khama of neighbouring Botswana said Mugabe had no diplomatic support in the region and should resign at once.

Besides changing its leadership, Zanu-PF said it wanted to change the constitution to reduce the power of the president, a possible sign of its desire to move towards a more pluralistic and inclusive political system.

However, Mnangagwa’s history as state security chief during the so-called Gukurahundi crackdown, when an estimated 20,000 people were killed by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland in the early 1980s, suggested that quick, sweeping change was unlikely.

“The deep state that engineered this change of leadership will remain, thwarting any real democratic reform,” said Miles Tendi, a Zimbabwean academic at Oxford University.

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