The Zimbabwean’s President, Robert Mugabe, has refused to resign after a military coup, insisting that he remains the only legitimate ruler of the country.
But pressure is mounting on the 93-year-old former guerrilla to accept offers of a graceful exit, sources said on Thursday.
A political source, who spoke to senior allies holed up with Mugabe and his wife, Grace, in his lavish “Blue Roof” Harare compound, said Mugabe had no plans to resign voluntarily ahead of elections scheduled for next year.
“It is a sort of stand-off, a stalemate. They are insisting the President must finish his term,” Reuters quoted the source as saying.
The army’s takeover signalled the collapse in less than 36 hours of the security, intelligence and patronage networks that sustained Mugabe through 37 years in power and built him into the “Grand Old Man” of African politics.
A priest mediating between Mugabe and the generals, who seized power on Wednesday in what they called a targeted operation against “criminals” in Mugabe’s entourage, has made little headway, a senior political source told Reuters.
Opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, called for Mugabe’s departure “in the interest of the people,” in a statement read to reporters, Tsvangirai pointedly referred to him as “Mr. Robert Mugabe,” not President.
The army appears to want Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, to go quietly and allow a smooth and bloodless transition to Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president who Mugabe sacked last week, triggering the political crisis.
The main goal of the generals is to prevent Mugabe from handing power to his wife, Grace, 41 years his junior, who has built a following among the ruling party’s youth wing and appeared on the cusp of power after Mnangagwa was pushed out.
The last of Africa’s state founders from the heyday of the struggle against European colonisation still in power, Mugabe is still seen by many Africans as a liberation hero. But he is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power pauperised one of Africa’s most promising states.
ZANU-PF youth leader Kudzai Chipanga, a vocal Mugabe supporter, publicly apologised for opposing the army after being marched by soldiers into the state television headquarters to read out a statement, sources at the broadcaster said.
He was then taken back to the army’s main KGVI (pronounced KG Six) barracks in Harare, where Finance Minister, Ignatius Chombo is also being held, an army source said.
Video footage obtained by Reuters from the houses of two key allies of Grace Mugabe – cabinet ministers Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere – indicated that the army was also prepared to use force if necessary.
Moyo’s front door was blown open with explosives, scattering glass across the entrance hall, while the inside walls of Kasukuwere’s house were pocked with bullet holes.
The pair managed to escape on the evening of the coup and made it to Mugabe’s compound, where they remain under effective house arrest, one political source said.
It was gathered on Thursday that one motive for the military might have been knowledge of a plan orchestrated by Grace Mugabe and her supporters to have up to 40 senior officers and officials seen as backing Mnangagwa removed from their posts this week.
During his rule, Mugabe ensured the continuing loyalty of the military by offering privileges and lucrative business opportunities to top soldiers. The transfer of these to the first lady and her faction would have been a bitter blow. One opposition official said negotiations had been ongoing for several months with “certain people within the army.”
Zimbabwe faces severe economic problems. It is struggling to pay for imports due to a shortage of dollars, which has also caused acute cash shortages. Restoring some measure of economic health will be a priority of any incoming administration.