Robert Mugabe faced the threat of impeachment by his own party on Monday, after his shock insistence he still holds power in Zimbabwe despite a military takeover and a noon deadline to end his 37-year autocratic rule.
In a televised address late Sunday, the 93-year-old veteran leader defied expectations that he would bring the curtain down on his reign, pitching the country into a second week of political crisis.
The speech provoked anger and disbelief among crowds who had gathered in bars and cafes to watch, and raised concerns that Zimbabwe could be at risk of a violent backlash.
His once-loyal ZANU-PF party — who has already sacked him and told him to resign as head of state — warned it would seek to impeach him if he fails to quit by midday (1000 GMT).
Both the army and the influential war veterans’ association were expected to hold briefings in response to the crisis triggered by Mugabe’s refusal to go.
Ahead of the ZANU-PF deadline, a noisy group of demonstrators gathered at the University of Zimbabwe in Harare to call for Mugabe to go.
Mugabe’s speech capped an extraordinary weekend that saw Zimbabweans jubilant at the prospect of his demise and venting their anger in ways that, just a week earlier, would have been brutally punished.
But their joy quickly turned to despair as Mugabe seemed to brush aside the turmoil — blithely declaring he would chair a top-level meeting of the party that had just disavowed him.
‘Make Mugabe history’
Chris Mutsvangwa, head of the influential war veterans’ association, called for protests and demanded that Mugabe be impeached.
“We will continue with the momentum to make sure Mugabe is history. It might take days and weeks, but Mugabe is on how way out,” said Charles Muramba, a 46-year-old bus driver.
“Arrogant Mugabe disregards ZANU-PF,” screamed the front page of the Daily News on Monday.
The crisis erupted on November 13 over a factional squabble to succeed the ailing president.
Mugabe’s wife Grace, 52, secured prime position to succeed him, sidelining the vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was fired.
But Mnangagwa, 75, has close ties to the army and the powerful war veterans.
After he fled abroad, the army took over the country and placed Mugabe under house arrest.
The army insisted it was not a military coup, but rather an operation to root out “criminals around (Mugabe) who are committing crimes”. That was seen as a reference to supporters of the highly ambitious first lady.
When Mugabe refused to step down following behind-the-scenes talks, the generals unleashed people power.
In scenes redolent of Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, crowds thronged the cities, waving national flags and chanting for Mugabe to resign.
The pendulum swung further against the president on Sunday, when ZANU-PF dismissed him as its leader and demanded he resign as head of state, naming Mnangagwa as the new party chief.
But impeaching Mugabe, who is the only leader most Zimbabweans have ever known, would require a two-thirds supermajority in both houses of Zimbabwe’s parliament which is due to resume on Tuesday.
– Unruffled –
Mugabe seemed unfazed in his speech and made no reference to the hostile chorus calling for him to go, shrugging off last week’s dramatic military intervention.
“The operation I have alluded to did not amount to a threat to our well-cherished constitutional order nor did it challenge my authority as head of state, not even as commander in chief,” he said.
Derek Matyszak, an analyst at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said Mugabe’s address raised the stakes even further.
“It’s absolutely astounding. Mugabe behaves as if nothing ZANU-PF said this afternoon was of any relevance,” he told AFP.
“Where will they go from here? They’ll proceed with the so-called impeachment process.”
Some sources suggest Mugabe has been battling to delay his exit in order to secure a deal that would guarantee future protection for him and his family.
Mugabe was a key figure in the war that wrested power from the white colonial government that ran the former Rhodesia.
He took office as prime minister in 1980, surfing a wave of goodwill, and later became president.
But his reputation was swiftly tarnished by his authoritarian instincts, rights abuse and economic ineptitude. Eventually, his country was shunned by the West.
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Output has halved since 2000 when many white-owned farms were seized, leaving the key agricultural sector in ruins.
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