Mugabe's refusal to quit stalls plans for interim government

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe speaks at a news conference at the State House in Harare.
Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe speaks at a news conference at the State House in Harare.PHOTO: REUTERS

Zimbabwe's President resisting pressure from the military to step down, say sources

HARARE • Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe's refusal to publicly resign is stalling plans by the military to swiftly install a transitional government after seizing power this week, two people familiar with the situation said.

The military wants Mr Mugabe, who is under house arrest, to agree to step aside so it can claim its action is not a coup and head off tension with the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a bloc currently chaired by South Africa, the duo said yesterday.

The group previously intervened when the army took over in Lesotho. It was to meet in Botswana later yesterday to discuss the dramatic situation.

Mr Mugabe and envoys from the SADC held talks in Harare yesterday, South African foreign affairs spokesman Clayson Monyela told Agence France-Presse, declining to give further details.

Zimbabwe's army appears to want Mr Mugabe to go quietly and allow a smooth and bloodless transition to former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa.

A political source who spoke to senior allies holed up with Mr Mugabe and his family in his lavish "Blue House" compound in Harare said Mr Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, had no plans to resign voluntarily ahead of elections scheduled for next year.

"It is a sort of stand-off, a stalemate," the source said. "They are insisting the President must finish his term."

37

Number of years President Robert Mugabe has been in power in Zimbabwe.

Father Fidelis Mukonori, a prominent Catholic priest, is mediating between Mr Mugabe and the generals but has made little headway, according to the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Still seen by many Africans as a liberation hero, Mr Mugabe 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 bread-basket, Zimbabwe's economy collapsed in the wake of the seizure of white-owned farms in the early 2000s, followed by runaway money-printing that catapulted inflation to 500 billion per cent in 2008.

The nation was left stunned after Mr Mugabe was confined to his residence late on Tuesday, as soldiers took up positions at strategic points across Harare and senior officers commandeered state television. The army's takeover signalled the collapse in less than 36 hours of the security, intelligence and patronage networks that sustained Mr Mugabe, 93, through 37 years in power and built him into the "Grand Old Man" of African politics.

The collision course was set when Mr Mugabe last week abruptly fired Mr Mnangagwa, a lifelong Mugabe confidant known as "The Crocodile" and a linchpin of the defence and security establishment.

 
 

Mr Mnangagwa fled to South Africa and published a scathing five-page rebuke of Mr Mugabe's leadership and the political ambition of the President's 52-year-old wife Grace. She has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks of Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF party in the past two years, culminating in Mr Mnangagwa's removal a week ago. The Mnangagwa camp and the military interpreted his ouster as a move to clear the way for Mrs Mugabe to succeed her husband.

Zimbabweans yesterday weighed a future without Mr Mugabe. Many hoped the crisis would pave the way to a more prosperous future. "Our economic situation has deteriorated every day - no employment, no jobs," said Mr Tafadzwa Masango, a 35-year-old unemployed man. "We hope for a better Zimbabwe after the Mugabe era. We feel very happy. It is now his time to go."

Harare's residents have largely ignored the military presence on the streets and continued commuting, socialising and working.

With the army against Mr Mugabe and the police - once seen as a bastion of support - showing no signs of resistance, force is not an option. Similarly, his support inside the ruling party is crumbling, and on the streets of the capital, he is loathed. Zimbabwean intelligence reports seen by Reuters suggest his exit has been in the planning for more than a year.

According to the files and political sources in Zimbabwe and South Africa, once Mr Mugabe's resignation is secured, Mr Mnangagwa would take over as president of an interim unity government that will seek to stabilise the imploding economy.

Fuelling speculation that the plan might be rolling into action, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who had been receiving cancer treatment in Britain and South Africa, returned to Harare late on Wednesday.

He told a news conference that Mr Mugabe should resign for the good of Zimbabwe. "In the interest of the people, Mr Robert Mugabe must resign and step down immediately," Mr Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, said, reading from a statement.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 17, 2017, with the headline 'Mugabe's refusal to quit stalls plans for interim govt'. Print Edition | Subscribe