The military on Friday changed tack in its determination to remove Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe from office after he firmly resisted any deal that would prematurely end his leadership of the ruling Zanu-PF party and the country.
During discussions with takeover leader General Constantino Chiwenga brokered by South Africa and Botswana, President Mugabe said he would only agree to a transition plan hinged on the country’s Constitution.
In short, he would not leave the chairmanship of Zanu-PF until the party’s congress next month or the presidency before elections expected to be held in July or August next year.
With Gen Chiwenga and the army still beholden to President Mugabe as commander-in-chief — and keen not to lose international support if they took power by force — the generals have now resorted to a political and legally binding solution that will see the President’s support within the party weakened from the grassroots before an impeachment in parliament this week.
“War veterans are the game-changers. The military is there to uphold the Constitution,” war veterans leader Christopher Mutsvangwa told journalists in Harare. “We want the grand show of people’s power.”
Mr Mutsvangwa said if President Mugabe did not resign, the former fighters would “settle scores” at a rally planned for Saturday.
Zimbabwe’s generals are now pursuing a political route to push President Mugabe out within a week of putting him under house arrest.
Away from the capital Harare, Zanu-PF has convened provincial meetings to elect new officials and called a Central Committee meeting, on the orders of the military.
“President Mugabe was stage-managing rallies with his wife,” Mr Mutsvangwa said, explaining why the party meetings will be different this time.
A Zanu-PF Central Committee meeting is now scheduled for Sunday, where President Mugabe and his wife will be expelled from the party he helped establish in 1963.
Sacked vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is believed to be the brains behind the army takeover, will be made party president, just a fortnight after the same Zanu-PF structures were being railroaded to pass a vote of no confidence against him.
Days earlier, President Mugabe had fired his long-time lieutenant for “disloyalty and deceit.”
Officials close to the military said once President Mugabe is stripped of his role as head of the ruling party, it will be easier for the generals to force him into a deal.
Former liberation fighters who are sympathetic to Mr Mnangagwa said they will organise a march in the capital Harare on Saturday in yet another political strategy to force the 93-year-old president to resign.
Mr Mutsvangwa said the veterans and the military, who are fronting him as party leader and presumptive presidential candidate, had contacted opposition leaders, including former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai and former vice-president Joice Mujuru to form a transitional government after President Mugabe’s departure.
He said the war veterans had resolved their differences with Mr Tsvangirai, against whose supporters the fighters and the army waged a violent campaign after he defeated President Mugabe in the first round of the presidential election in 2008.
The opposition leader was forced to withdraw from the second round of the election, allowing President Mugabe to hang on to power.
“We have no grudge against Tsvangirai. We have closed ranks. He now recognises war veterans,” said Mr Mutsvangwa. “We have reached out to everyone — the opposition, the white farmers and even the church.”
The opposition leaders have said they do not want the country to be run from the barracks.
The politics of Grace
The military seized power early this week, accusing President Mugabe of purging veterans of the liberation war from the ruling Zanu-PF and trying to force his wife Grace on Zimbabweans as his successor.
But the President refused to step down and appeared in public on Friday to preside over a graduation ceremony at the Zimbabwe Open University.
Unconfirmed reports say Mrs Mugabe has fled to Namibia, with Malaysia — where the family owns properties —a likely destination.
A senior member of the ruling party was quoted by the Financial Times as saying that the army did not essentially want President Mugabe to step down. Instead, it wanted him to ensure that Grace, who was manoeuvring to succeed her husband, left politics for good.
This, according to the army, would allow an open leadership contest at the party’s congress next month, breaking President Mugabe’s decades-old hold on the party.
Peculiar kind of coup
The International Crisis Group (ICG), in its latest analysis, says that there may well be sympathy for the military intervention from several domestic and regional quarters, but it sets dangerous precedent, with major implications for Zimbabwe and beyond.
“This is a peculiar kind of coup. There has been a military takeover, but the army has not declared martial law, the suspension of the constitution, or the deposition of the country’s head of state,” said the ICG report.
The Africa Union (AU) is also in a quandary over maintaining its policy against unlawful overthrow of any government, even as President Mugabe’s imminent ouster appears to enjoy popular support within and outside Zimbabwe.
With the Constitutive Act of 2000, the AU shifted from non-interference in the affairs of partner states to “non-indifference.” The continental body, however, often sits on the fence, waiting for the United Nations to take the lead in trouble spots in Africa, as it has in the ongoing Burundi political crisis.
AU chairman Alpha Conde, who is also the president of Guinea, demanded an immediate return to constitutional order in Zimbabwe, admitting that the army had toyed with the idea of taking over power.
The AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat urged all stakeholders to address the situation in accordance with the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the relevant instruments of the African Union, including the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
“It is crucial that the crisis is resolved in a manner that promotes democracy and human rights, as well as the socio-economic development of Zimbabwe,” said Mr Mahat, who emphasised that AU is working closely with the Southern African Development Community and the leaders of the region to solve the Zimbabwe crisis.
A consortium of 112 civil society groups in Zimbabwe said that in the interest of peace and stability President Mugabe should voluntarily step down and pave the way for an all-inclusive all stakeholder process which will determine the future of Zimbabwe.
“We call on SADC to be the arbiter and allow an inclusive dialogue with political parties, civil society, church, labour, students and other critical,” the group said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Fred Oluoch.