HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s ruling party will dismiss 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe as its leader on Sunday and kick him out, stripping its ruler for the last 37 years of one of his final vestiges of authority, the head of the liberation war veterans said.
Speaking to Reuters as he walked into an extraordinary meeting of ZANU-PF’s central committee, Chris Mutsvangwa said Mugabe was running out of time to negotiate his departure and should leave the country while he could.
“We are going all the way,” Mutsvangwa said. “He’s trying to bargain for a dignified exit.”
Mutsvangwa, who has spearheaded a campaign over the last 18 months to remove the only leader Zimbabwe has known, said ZANU-PF would also dismiss Mugabe’s wife Grace as head of its Women’s League and reinstate ousted vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The former state security chief, known as “The Crocodile” is thought to be in line to head an interim post-Mugabe unity government that will focus on rebuilding ties with the outside world and stabilizing an economy in freefall.
State television said late on Friday that Mugabe, who has so far resisted pressure to quit, would meet military commanders who seized power in a de facto coup four days ago, along with a Catholic priest who has been mediating between the two sides.
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Harare, singing, dancing and hugging soldiers in an outpouring of elation at Mugabe’s expected overthrow.
His stunning downfall in just four days is likely to send shockwaves across Africa, where a number of entrenched strongmen, from Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni to Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila, are facing mounting pressure to quit.
Men, women and children ran alongside the armored cars and troops who stepped in this week to oust the man who has ruled since independence from Britain in 1980.
Under house arrest in his lavish ‘Blue Roof’ compound, Mugabe has refused to stand down even as he has watched his support from party, security services and people evaporate in less than three days.
His nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, told Reuters the elderly leader and his wife were “ready to die for what is correct” rather than step down in order to legitimize what he described as a coup.
But on Harare’s streets, few seemed to care about the legal niceties as they heralded a “second liberation” for the former British colony and spoke of their dreams for political and economic change after two decades of deepening repression and hardship.
“These are tears of joy,” said Frank Mutsindikwa, 34, holding aloft the Zimbabwean flag. “I’ve been waiting all my life for this day. Free at last. We are free at last.”
The huge crowds in Harare have given a quasi-democratic veneer to the army’s intervention, backing its assertion that it is merely effecting a constitutional transfer of power, rather than a plain coup, which would entail a diplomatic backlash.
Despite the euphoria, some Mugabe opponents are uneasy about the prominent role played by the military, and fear Zimbabwe might be swapping one army-backed autocrat with another, rather than allowing the people to choose their next leader.
“The real danger of the current situation is that having got their new preferred candidate into State House, the military will want to keep him or her there, no matter what the electorate wills,” former education minister David Coltart said.
The United States, a long-time Mugabe critic, said it was looking forward to a new era in Zimbabwe, while President Ian Khama of neighboring Botswana said Mugabe had no diplomatic support in the region and should resign at once.