HARARE • Zimbabweans celebrating the expected fall of President Robert Mugabe marched towards his residence in the capital Harare, as the country prepared to oust its leader of the last 37 years.
The ruling Zanu-PF party added another nail in Mr Mugabe's coffin, with two party sources saying yesterday that it will hold a special central committee meeting this morning to dismiss the 93-year-old President as its leader.
The party will also reinstate Mr Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president whose sacking by Mr Mugabe earlier this month triggered the military intervention, and remove Mr Mugabe's widely detested wife Grace from the leadership of the Zanu-PF Women's League.
Shortly after the sources revealed the planned Zanu-PF meeting, a motorcade left Mr Mugabe's official residence in Harare to the jeers of onlookers, although it was unclear if he was inside.
Earlier yesterday, tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of the capital, singing, dancing and hugging soldiers in an outpouring of elation as Mr Mugabe's rule nears an end.
Men, women and children ran alongside the armoured cars and troops that stepped in this week to oust the only ruler Zimbabwe has known since independence in 1980.
Mr Mugabe has been under house arrest in his lavish "Blue Roof" compound in Harare.
FREE AT LAST
These are tears of joy. I've been waiting all my life for this day. Free at last. We are free at last.
MR FRANK MUTSINDIKWA, 34, one of many Zimbabweans who spoke of a second liberation for the former British colony, alongside their dreams of change.
SENDING A CLEAR MESSAGE
Let us now go and deliver the message that grandfather Mugabe and his typist-cum-wife should go home.
MR VICTOR MATEMADANDA, secretary-general of Zimbabwe's War Veterans Association, on President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace.
Emotions ran high on Harare's streets as Zimbabweans spoke of a second liberation for the former British colony, alongside their dreams of political and economic change after two decades of deepening repression and hardship.
"These are tears of joy," Mr Frank Mutsindikwa, 34, told Reuters, holding aloft the Zimbabwean flag. "I've been waiting all my life for this day. Free at last. We are free at last."
Mr Mugabe's downfall is likely to send shockwaves across Africa, where a number of entrenched strongmen, from Uganda's Yoweri Museveni to the Democratic Republic of Congo's Joseph Kabila, are facing mounting pressure to step aside.
Mr Victor Matemadanda, secretary-general of Zimbabwe's War Veterans Association, called on those at an anti-Mugabe rally to march on Mr Mugabe's residence, and live TV footage showed hundreds of protesters marching in that direction.
"Let us now go and deliver the message that grandfather Mugabe and his typist-cum-wife should go home," Mr Matemadanda told the crowd in the Harare township of Highfield.
The crowds in Harare have so far given a quasi-democratic veneer to the army's intervention, backing its claims that it is merely effecting a constitutional transfer of power, which would help it avoid the diplomatic backlash and opprobrium that normally follows coups.
For some Africans, Mr Mugabe remains a nationalist hero, the continent's last independence leader and a symbol of its struggle to throw off the legacy of decades of colonial subjugation. But to many at home and abroad, he has been reviled as a dictator happy to resort to violence to retain power and to run a once-promising economy into the ground.
According to political sources and intelligence documents seen by Reuters, Mr Mugabe's exit is likely to pave the way for an interim unity government led by Mr Mnangagwa, a lifelong Mugabe aide and former security chief known as "The Crocodile". Stabilising the free-falling economy, which logs 50 per cent monthly inflation and where nine in 10 people are jobless, will be the No. 1 priority, the documents showed.
Although Mr Mugabe has been digging in his heels in the face of army pressure to quit, he appears to have run out of road, devoid of domestic or international support.
But his nephew, Mr Patrick Zhuwao, told Reuters yesterday that the elderly leader and his wife were "ready to die for what is correct" and had no intention of stepping down in order to legitimise what he described as a coup.
Speaking from a secret location in South Africa, Mr Zhuwao said his uncle had hardly slept since the military seized power on Wednesday, but his health was otherwise "good".