Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe clung to the vestiges of office on Sunday, using a TV address to maintain he was still in power despite a military takeover and a mounting clamour for his autocratic 37-year rule to end. His address left many Zimbabweans confused after expectations were raised that he would resign following his removal as Zanu-PF leader earlier on Sunday.
By MAYNARD MANYOWA and AFP. (For the Daily Maverick)
Zimbabweans who had filed into clubs in Harare in anticipation of President Robert Mugabe’s resignation were left disappointed on Sunday night.
“The (ruling Zanu-PF) party congress is due in a few weeks and I will preside over its processes,” Mugabe said in an address broadcast live on television, pitching the country into deep uncertainty.
Many Zimbabweans had expected Mugabe, 93, to announce his resignation after the army seized power, opened the floodgates of citizen protest and his once-loyal party told him to quit.
Just ahead of Sunday’s speech, crowds gathered in Harare’s Africa Union Square under the light of the setting sun to chant against Mugabe and wave Zimbabwean flags.
“What we wanted was the government of Mugabe gone… out of the way by whatever means necessary,” said demonstrator Thobekile Ncube.
But speaking slowly and occasionally stumbling as he read from the pages, Mugabe talked of the need for solidarity to resolve national problems –business-as-usual rhetoric that he has deployed over decades.
He made no reference to the chorus for him to resign and shrugged off last week’s dramatic military intervention.
“The operation I have alluded to did not amount to a threat to our well-cherished constitutional order, nor did it challenge my authority as head of state, not even as commander-in-chief,” he said.
Earlier on Sunday Mugabe’s party, Zanu-PF, recalled him as President, and fired him as first secretary, replacing him with Emmerson Mnangagwa, who he fired just last week.
The party has given Mugabe a 24-hour ultimatum to either resign by noon on Monday or face impeachment on Tuesday.
Mugabe’s speech, which was initially assumed to put an end to the anxiety many Zimbabweans have felt on the streets, unsure of who was in power, only added to confusion.
“That speech has nothing to do with realities. We will go for impeachment and we are calling people back to the streets,” Chris Mutsvangwa, head of the influential war veterans’ association, said.
It was not immediately clear from his remarks when and where the protests would take place.
“It was an act of defiance. You could see the general tried to show him which pages to read. But he intentionally jumped over them,” a Zanu-PF member said.
On the streets of Harare, several people left city nightclubs dejected. Many had gathered in the city, waiting to celebrate after the announcement. But the balloons did not pop, and the champagne will have to be used another day.
His address provoked immediate anger and raised concern that Zimbabwe could be at risk of a violent reaction to the political tensions.
“People should go back on to the streets. This is not fair,” said a security guard in Harare who declined to be named.
Journalist and political analyst, Watson Munyaka, explained that Mugabe did this to make sure he leaves with one last display of defiance.
“He had a chance to leave today. But he decided to remain defiant. It seems he sold the army a dummy, pretending to want to leave gracefully.”
“You get the impression that he seemed to hint that he would chair Zanu-PF’s congress this year, even though he has been fired from the party. In his mind, he believes he has a chance of being the presidential candidate,” said Tichaona Mushambadope, a political commentator based in Mozambique.
Political strategist and former Zanu-PF think tank member, Alex Mahuni, believes the speech was classic Mugabe.
“The incident was expected. People should not be shocked or heartbroken. In limited space, he was trying to do a Mark Antony on the army intervention move. The army anticipated this and has demonstrated that it has given him every chance for a dignified exit.”
Burlington Perezu, a Zimbabwean living in exile, said the “biggest drawback in this whole saga has been the attempt to preserve the madman’s dignity while nudging him out. It’s clear that booting him out on his arse is what will be most effective,” he wrote.
There are some who believe Mugabe was not forced to read any speech at all, and that the speech was meant for SADC, and the African Union, who many on the streets of Harare believed to be interfering with domestic processes.
Human Rights Activist Stacy Chiwa told Daily Maverick that this was part of a ploy to demonstrate state functionality.
According to Chiwa the speech was meant to do the following:
- Tell SADC and the international community that there is no coup;
- Tell everyone that Zimbabwe has a functional democracy and everything that was done by the army was above the law and necessary;
- That the issues raised by the command are genuine and legitimate. The way forward is to fix them both at the party and at government level; and,
- That Zimbabwe needs to return both the party and government to its founding values and constitution.
Opposition activists are divided on the impact the current situation will have on democracy.
“This leaves Zanu PF united and stronger and frustrates efforts for real democracy and progress,” wrote Professor Changamire.
Another opposition activist and supporter, Sy Tsingo, says he hopes for a situation where Mugabe remains a limited president for the next six months, while his fierce rival Mnangagwa is party president.
On Saturday, in scenes of public elation not seen since Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980, huge crowds had marched and sung their way through Harare, believing Mugabe was about to step down. DM
Photo: President Mugabe delivers a confusing speech on Sunday night, 19 November 2017. (ZBC)