Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe shocked the country and the world on Sunday, making no mention of his expected resignation in a speech on state TV. Instead, the president vowed to stay on and preside over the ruling party’s congress in December, BBC News reports.
“The congress is due in a few weeks from now. I will preside over its processes, which must not be pre-possessed by any acts calculated to undermine it or to compromise the outcomes in the eyes of the public,” said Mugabe. He frequently appeared to lose his place as he read from notes during the 20-minute address. Hours earlier, his Zanu-PF had voted to expel him from the party and promised impeachment if Mugabe failed to resign by Monday.
The party’s central committee named Emmerson Mnangagwa as its new leader. It was Mugabe’s firing of Mnangagwa as Zimbabwe’s vice president—ostensibly to pave the way for his wife, Grace Mugabe, to succeed him—that sparked the current crisis.
Senior leaders within the ruling party and the military were angered over what they saw as the sidelining of veterans of the War of Liberation. The war, in which Mugabe and Mnangagwa fought, ended in 1980, and saw the end of white minority-rule.
On Wednesday, shots were heard in the capital, Harare, as the military seized control of state television and entered the presidential compound, placing Mugabe under house arrest. Military leadership was quick to insist that there had not been a coup. On state media late Wednesday, Maj. Gen. Sibusiso Moyo “guaranteed” the security of Mugabe and his family, saying: “We are only targeting criminals around him who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice. As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Harare on Saturday to call for President Mugabe’s resignation. Many were jubilant, hopeful for change after decades of dictatorship, economic crisis and hyperinflation. Wednesday’s coup, however, was no revolution, and those hopeful for a democratic transition may be disappointed.
Many Zimbabweans opposed to Mugabe’s rule fear that the military is simply swapping one autocrat for another. “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 told Reuters.
And while Zanu-PF has expressed support for changes to the constitution reducing the powers of the president, the appointment of Mnangagwa as party leader suggests any change will be slow in coming. He was state security chief during the infamous Gukurahundi crackdown, when an estimated 20,000 people were killed by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland in the early 1980’s.
As of now, uncertainty reigns in Zimbabwe. It remains unclear how long the military will remain in power, if Mugabe will resign, and indeed whether the ruling party will cling to power. As President Mugabe’s 37-year-rule comes to an end, Zimbabwe waits for answers.