Mugabe meets Zimbabwe army chief and South Africa envoys

Veteran president resists pressure to stand down after Zimbabwean military takes power

Zimbabwe's military has confirmed that it had seized power in a targeted assault on 'criminals' around President Robert Mugabe, but gave assurances that the 93-year-old leader and his family were 'safe and sound'. Video: Reuters


A smiling president Robert Mugabe has been pictured shaking hands with Zimbabwe’s military chief a day after the Zimbabwean army seized power in the country, throwing confusion over predictions that the 93-year-old’s nearly four-decade rule had come to an end.

Mr Mugabe unexpectedly drove from his lavish “Blue House” compound in Harare, where he had been confined since troops took to the streets, to State House, where official media pictured him meeting military chief Constantino Chiwenga and South African ministers sent to mediate the crisis.

Photos on the official Herald newspaper’s website showed Mugabe, Chiwenga, defence minister Sydney Sekeramayi and state security minister Kembo Mohadi speaking with South African officials alongside Catholic priest Fr Fidelis Mukonori.

The Herald carried no reports of the outcome of the meeting, leaving Zimbabwe’s 13 million people in the dark as to what was happening as night fell on Thursday.

The South African officials in the photos included defence minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and state security minister Bongani Bongo.

Mr Mugabe 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, sources said on Thursday.

Earlier, a political source who spoke to senior allies holed up in the compound with Mr Mugabe and his wife Grace said he had no plans to resign voluntarily ahead of elections due next year.

“It’s a sort of stand-off, a stalemate,” the source said. “They are insisting the president must finish his term.

Call to resign

The talks followed a call from Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai for Mr Mugabe to resign in the interest of the country.

“In the interest of the people, Mr Robert Mugabe must resign and step down immediately,” Mr Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, told a news conference, reading from a statement.

Mugabe, Grace Mugabe and two key figures from her G40 political faction were said to be under house arrest at the “Blue House” compound.

The G40 figures are cabinet ministers Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere, who fled to the compound after their homes were attacked by troops in Tuesday night’s coup, a source, who said he had spoken to people inside the compound, said.

Mr Mugabe had been resisting mediation by Fr Mukonori to allow him a graceful exit after the military coup.

The priest is acting as a middle-man between Mr Mugabe and the generals, who seized power on Wednesday in a targeted operation against “criminals” in his entourage, a senior political source told Reuters.

The source could not provide details of the talks, which appear to be aimed at a smooth and bloodless transition after the departure of Mr Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.

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

Post-Mugabe vision

Zimbabwean intelligence reports seen by Reuters suggest that former security chief Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was ousted as vice-president this month, has been mapping out a post-Mugabe vision with the military and opposition for more than a year.

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

South Africa said Mr Mugabe had told president Jacob Zuma by telephone on Wednesday that he was confined to his home but was otherwise fine and the military said it was keeping him and his family, including Grace, safe.

Despite the lingering admiration for Mr Mugabe, there is little public affection for 52-year-old Grace, a former government typist who started having an affair with Mugabe in the early 1990s as his first wife, Sally, was dying of kidney failure.

Dubbed “DisGrace” or “Gucci Grace” on account of her reputed love of shopping, she enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks of Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF in the last two years, culminating in Mnangagwa’s removal a week ago – a move seen as clearing the way for her to succeed her husband.

In contrast to the high political drama unfolding behind closed doors, the streets of the capital remained calm, with people going about their daily business, albeit under the watch of soldiers on armoured vehicles at strategic locations.

Whatever the final outcome, the events could signal a once-in-a-generation change for the former British colony.