Robert Mugabe gets ultimatum to resign by weekend

Mass protests and possible expulsion from Zanu-PF party loom for Zimbabwe president

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

 

Veterans of Zimbabwe’s liberation war have given President Robert Mugabe an ultimatum to resign by the weekend or face mass protests and possible expulsion from his ruling Zanu-PF party.

Chris Mutsvangwa, chairman of the influential war veterans’ association, said Mr Mugabe, who has led the country since independence, must “make a decision promptly to leave office [or] we’ll settle the score”.

In an unusual show of disrespect for a man many still hold in reverence in Zimbabwe, Mr Mutsvangwa ridiculed the president’s liberation credentials, saying he had never been within 400km of the front lines. He called on Zimbabweans to join a mass protest in Harare, the capital, on Saturday.

Pressure to push out Mr Mugabe (93) intensified as talks between the president and the military reached apparent stalemate. Gen Constantino Chiwenga, who ordered tanks on to the streets this week and who placed Mr Mugabe under house arrest, met the president on Thursday in an effort to hammer out a deal.

On Friday, Mr Mugabe was allowed to make his first public appearance since the military takeover, attending a university graduation ceremony, at which he dozed off.

The defence force said on Friday it would continue to engage with the president and that it had made considerable progress in weeding out what it called the “criminal elements” around him.

There have been reports that the president is resisting military pressure to resign and end his 37-year rule of the southern African nation. But a senior official in the ruling Zanu-PF party told the Financial Times the army might not insist that Mr Mugabe step down.

Instead, it had asked him to ensure that Grace Mugabe, his wife, who had been manoeuvring to succeed as president, left politics for good. Mr Mugabe might then be able to serve out his term, which ends next year.

Presidency takeover

Lloyd Msipa, a Zimbabwean with close ties to the leading protagonists in the unfolding drama, said the time was up for Mr Mugabe whatever the military’s intentions. Mr Mugabe, he said, was resisting the elevation of Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president he fired last week but who analysts say is poised to take over the presidency.

“He’s in denial,” Mr Msipa said of Mr Mugabe. Three of the 10 provincial branches of Zanu-PF had already voted to expel him. If he had not resigned by Saturday afternoon, Mr Msipa said, people participating in what he expected to be the biggest political rally since independence would march on his house to force him out.

The military has detained several cabinet members deemed to be part of Ms Mugabe’s faction in Zanu-PF, among them Ignatius Chombo, the finance minister, and Jonathan Moyo, the education minister.

Ms Mugabe has been at the centre of a vicious succession battle in Zanu-PF and is loathed by many of the party’s liberation veterans. The military intervention came a week after the president sacked Mr Mnangagwa, a veteran himself, in apparent deference to his wife’s increasingly obvious presidential ambitions.

Kames Mabvundwi, a Zanu-PF member and academic, said there was no option but for Mr Mugabe to go. “He’s senile and no longer in charge. The wife is in charge,” Mr Mabvundwi said.

He said he believed that Mr Mnangagwa, who has been in exile since his dismissal, was the man to spearhead a “reform agenda”.

“He’s the best person to lead that transition,” Mr Mabvundwi said.

Impeachment option

If Gen Chiwenga cannot persuade Mr Mugabe to accept a deal, the army may consider other measures, including impeachment, which requires a two-thirds parliamentary majority, to force him out, said Welshman Ncube, an opposition leader.

Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said: “In the interests of the people of Zimbabwe, Mr Robert Mugabe must resign, step down immediately in line with national sentiment.”

There was as “urgent need for a road map to return to legitimacy” that should involve a “negotiated and inclusive transitional mechanism” and eventual democratic elections.

Didymus Mutasa, a veteran who spent years by Mr Mugabe’s side until he was expelled from Zanu-PF in 2014, said the army had not intervened to open up the political process. “I’m not sure this was justified,” he said.

“They seem to have come to impose their own candidate, Emmerson Mnangagwa,” Mr Mutasa added. “That’s wrong.”

Joice Mujuru, a former vice-president forced out of Zanu-PF by Ms Mugabe in 2014, also called for Mr Mugabe’s resignation. “There’s no doubt that we are in need of a transitional arrangement,” she said. “Our country’s reconstruction and national healing process can only be a product of free, fair and credible elections.”

Members of the Southern African Development Community, a regional bloc, have called on the Zimbabwean army to avoid an “unconstitutional” change in government and urged “calm and restraint”.

Mr Mugabe’s apparent refusal to bow to military pressure, combined with SADC’s stance, could still delay a transition of power by weeks, analysts said. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017