Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party has given President Robert Mugabe until noon Monday to resign or face impeachment.
ZANU-PF has installed former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who Mugabe dismissed two weeks earlier, as the party’s new chief.
Party leaders have also expelled Mugabe’s wife, Grace, leader of the ZANU-PF Women’s League, from membership in the ruling party.
On Saturday, 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 26-year-old Rutendo Maisiri. “It is wrong. We will stay put.”
Mugabe’s nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, told Reuters Saturday his uncle and his uncle’s wife were “ready to die for what is correct.” Speaking from an undisclosed location in South Africa, Zhuwao said Mugabe had no plans to resign in order to validate what he described as a coup.
Zhuwao said his 93-year-old uncle’s health was “good,” although he has gotten little sleep since the military seized control on Wednesday.
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 were 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.
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 the protests are designed to push the president out of office.
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 last week from South Africa, where he is being treated for cancer.
Mugabe hanging on
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, the ruling ZANU-PF party 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.