Officials of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s own ZANU-PF party said Saturday that they would meet Sunday to discuss dismissing the longtime ruler.
Two unnamed party sources told Reuters they would reinstate Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, whom Mugabe fired last week, and would dismiss Mugabe’s wife — Mugabe’s choice to succeed him — from her position as leader of the ZANU-PF Women’s League.
One of two party officials who confirmed Sunday’s meeting with AFP said they would “endorse the decisions of the nine [party] provinces” to call for Mugabe to resign as president and party leader.
Shortly after the sources disclosed the meeting, a motorcade departed Mugabe’s official residence in Harare amid boos and jeers from protesters. A security official said Mugabe was not inside any of the vehicles.
The meeting was scheduled as thousands of exuberant Zimbabwean demonstrators flooded the streets of Harare, some of whom marched toward the official residence of Mugabe amid nationwide protests calling for the his resignation.
The protesters — some carrying signs that said “Mugabe must go!” and “Not coup but cool” — came within 200 meters of the gates to the complex and staged a sit-down protest after being halted by national troops.
The State House is where Mugabe is under official house arrest and where negotiations for Mugabe’s departure have taken place.
“This is not fair. Why are soldiers preventing us to march to the State House,” said Rutendo Maisiri, 26. “It is wrong. We will stay put.”
The military has stopped such demonstrations in the capital in the past, but is now supporting the protests, directing demonstrators to the Zimbabwe Grounds, where speeches are being made by activists, politicians and former freedom fighters calling for the president to resign.
The Zimbabwe Grounds is a symbolic location. It is where Zimbabweans welcomed Mugabe’s return from exile in 1980 after the liberation war from white minority rule.
Mugabe is reported to be resisting demands to step down from the army, members of his ZANU-PF party and political activists.
The Zimbabwe Defense Forces seized key state institutions Wednesday, confined Mugabe to house arrest and clamped down on those they termed thieves surrounding the president, including professor Jonathan Moyo, Home Affairs Minister Ignatius Chombo, Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, ZANU-PF Youth League Secretary Kudzanayi Chipanga.
The detainees, who were in army barracks, are said to be members of a faction of the ruling party that were seeking to elevate first lady Grace Mugabe to the post of vice president. Robert Mugabe fired Mnangagwa from the position on November 5.
Mugabe made a public appearance Friday, his first since the military took over state institutions and opened talks aimed at getting the aged leader to resign.
Mugabe, wearing a blue and yellow academic gown, presided over a university graduation ceremony for more than 1,000 students in Harare. The president appeared to fall asleep at times and said nothing about the ongoing political uncertainty.
Members of opposition groups are expressing frustration with the pace of negotiations over Mugabe’s political future.
Christopher Mutsvangwa, chairperson of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans’ Association, told journalists that Saturday’s protests were designed to push the president out of office.
Jacob Ngarivhume of opposition group Transform Zimbabwe said hopes of Mugabe leaving office were slowly dissipating.
“There is no way he should be allowed to continue holding power,” Ngarivhume told VOA’s Zimbabwe service. “If he were to do that, then Zimbabwe would be in trouble. What I see happening is there might be a dragging on of the discussion around his departure, but eventually … he must go. He has outlived his usefulness.”
Former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who leads the Movement for Democratic Change party, joined the calls for Mugabe to resign.
“Mr. Robert Mugabe must resign, step down immediately in line with the national sentiment and expectation, taking full regard of his legacy and contribution to Zimbabwe, pre- and post-Zimbabwe,” said Tsvangirai, who returned to the country this week from South Africa, where he is being treated for cancer.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Friday that it was time for the southern African country to return to civilian rule.
“Zimbabwe has an opportunity to set itself on a new path: one that must include democratic elections and respect for human rights,” Tillerson told African ministers and diplomats before a meeting in Washington. “Ultimately, the people of Zimbabwe must choose their government.”
There has been no indication Mugabe will voluntarily give up power. Nick Mangwana, who is the Britain-based representative of ZANU-PF, told VOA that “President Mugabe remains President Mugabe as of now.”
Mugabe is the only leader the nation has known since Zimbabwe won independence in 1980, and has turned back many previous challenges to his rule, often using the army, police and physical violence from supporters to intimidate opponents.
His hold appeared strong even as Zimbabwe’s economy, which has struggled for years, suffered a new downturn over the past 12 months. Last December, ZANU-PF nominated him as its presidential candidate for the 2018 elections.
The turning point was the firing of Mnangagwa, 75, a liberation war hero who maintains strong support among veterans.
Mnangagwa’s current whereabouts were uncertain, though he was widely believed to be in South Africa.
As for the president, the Zimbabwe Defense Forces said Friday that it was “currently engaging with the commander-in-chief, President Mugabe, on the way forward and will advise the nation as soon as possible.”