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No reported deal between Mugabe & army

The unfolding drama in the capital, Harare, was thrown into confusion when a smiling Mugabe was pictured shaking hands with Zimbabwe’s military chief.

FILE: Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe at a campaign Rally in Harare. Picture: AFP.

HARARE - The next few days in Zimbabwe appear unclear as there’s been no reported deal between President Robert Mugabe and the army that took control earlier this week.

The 93-year-old leader, known to be a tough negotiator, appears to be refusing to step down.

There were reports of wild celebrations on Thursday night after claims President Mugabe had agreed to step down in return for a safe exit for him and his family.

But these now appear to have been premature.

There’s still no news of a deal between Mugabe and defence forces commander Constantino Chiwenga, who were photographed for the first time together since the takeover.

They show Chiwenga and Mugabe smiling and shaking hands.

Two of President Jacob Zuma’s envoys met with Mugabe and Chiwenga on Thursday, but there are no details on the outcome of that meeting.

BUSINESS AS USUAL

While its business as usual in most small towns and villages of Zimbabwe, armed military personnel are still actively guarding the country’s main routes.

The army took control of the government in what has been called by the military a targeted operation against criminals in President Mugabe’s cabinet.

The military, through a public broadcast, told citizens that it expects the situation in the country to return to normal as soon as their mission is accomplished.

Besides the standard police roadblocks between the Beitbridge border and Zimbabwe’s capital city Harare, armed soldiers can be seen in camouflage randomly positioned along the roads.

The military personnel are also conducting stop and search operations on vehicles and say they are on alert for vehicles transporting weapons.

However, residents here are carrying on with normal life as if immune to the country’s current predicament.

The army earlier appealed to the public to remain calm, assuring them that its mission is to protect them from injustice.

The soldiers say they are on a 24-hour guard with 12 hourly rotations.

FATE HUNG IN THE BALANCE

Mugabe’s fate hung in the balance on Friday as he apparently resisted efforts to make him step down following a seizure of power by the army, until this week a key pillar of his 37-year-rule.

The United States, a longtime critic of Mugabe over allegations of human rights abuses and election rigging, is seeking “a new era” for Zimbabwe, the State Department’s top official for Africa said, an implicit call for the nonagenarian leader to quit.

The unfolding drama in the capital, Harare, was thrown into confusion when a smiling Mugabe was pictured shaking hands with Zimbabwe’s military chief, the man behind the coup, raising questions about whether or not the end of an era was near.

Mugabe unexpectedly drove on Thursday from his lavish “Blue Roof” compound, where he had been confined, to State House, where official media pictured him meeting military boss Chiwenga and South African mediators.

The official Herald newspaper carried no reports of the meeting’s outcome, leaving Zimbabwe’s 13 million people in the dark about the situation.

In an interview with Reuters, acting United States Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto appeared to dismiss the idea of Mugabe remaining in a transitional or ceremonial role.

“It’s a transition to a new era for Zimbabwe, that’s really what we’re hoping for,” Yamamoto said.

The army may want Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, to go quietly and allow a smooth and bloodless transition to Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice president Mugabe sacked last week, triggering the crisis.

The main goal of the generals is to prevent Mugabe from handing power to his wife, Grace, 41 years his junior, who has built a following among the ruling party’s youth wing and appeared on the cusp of power after Mnangagwa was pushed out.

The talks were also attended by South African Envoys Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa -Ngqakula and Bongani Bongo, who is the State Security Minister.

A Southern African Development Community (SADC) meeting in Botswana has recommended that regional leaders meet urgently to try and resolve the stalemate in Harare.

Zimbabwe's former finance minister, Tendai Biti says there needs to be a breakthrough soon.

“The major concern is trying to extinguish the current status quo in Zimbabwe which is that of a military coup but quite clearly going forward one can’t exclude dialogue with the opposition to create a sustainable solution.”

He says a transitional authority needs to take power in Zimbabwe to carry the country forward.

Biti says there needs to be an inclusive solution.

“We have to find a solution and …we need to craft a roadmap that restores as to legitimacy and constitutional rule as a matter of urgency.”

Biti was speaking on Radio 702 and Cape Talk on Thursday night.

At the same time, Martin Rupiya, a retired lieutenant colonel from the Zimbabwean army says the army takeover did not come as a surprise.

“But very carefully in this power struggle within the ruling party Zanu-PF is an attempt to create a succession in which the president is then forced or perhaps requested to step down. And what we now have is that the president has refused to go, created a number of conditions but also cited that in terms of the legal Constitution he is the authority that remains.”

‘SOME SORT OF AGREEMENT’

Mugabe, who at 93 has appeared increasingly frail in public, is insisting he remains Zimbabwe’s only legitimate ruler and is refusing to quit. But pressure was mounting on the former guerrilla to accept offers of a graceful exit, political sources said.

Zimbabwe’s former head of intelligence, Dumiso Dabengwa, was to hold a news conference in Johannesburg at 12:00 GMT. A South African government source said he expected Dabengwa, a close ally of the ousted Mnangagwa, to discuss the events in Zimbabwe. “It seems there is some sort of agreement,” the source said.

The army’s takeover signalled the collapse in less than 36 hours of the security, intelligence and patronage networks that sustained Mugabe through almost four decades in power and built him into the “Grand Old Man” of African politics.

Mugabe is still seen by many Africans as a liberation hero. But he is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power pauperised one of Africa’s most promising states.

Once a regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe saw its economy collapse after the seizure of white-owned farms in the early 2000s, followed by runaway money-printing that catapulted inflation to 500 billion% in 2008.

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