Zimbabwe’s ruling-party elite are set to seal an end to President Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule Sunday, a day after tens of thousands of people cheered his imminent downfall on the streets of Harare.
Mugabe triggered his own demise by firing Emmerson Mnangagwa as his vice president earlier this month, a move that prompted the military to intervene and place him under house arrest. Seeing the likelihood of his removal, joyous crowds turned out in Harare and Bulawayo — Zimbabwe’s second-largest city — on Saturday to celebrate.
On Mugabe’s watch, Zimbabwe has become steadily more impoverished. The economy has halved in size since 2000, there are chronic shortages of cash and food and the country’s main labor-union organization estimates that 95 percent of the workforce are unemployed.
The president is scheduled to meet the nation’s top generals for a second time since his detention on Sunday, where he’s likely to come under renewed pressure to step down. Should he refuse to do so he could be impeached when the nation’s parliament reconvenes on Tuesday. His swift and legal exit would enable the military to implement its plan to install a transitional government until elections can be held, without the risk of outside intervention.
Mugabe’s decision to fire his long-time ally Mnangagwa could have paved the way for his 52-year-old wife Grace and her supporters from a ruling-party faction known as the G-40 to gain control of the southern African nation. Nicknamed “Gucci Grace” in Zimbabwe for her extravagant lifestyle, she said on Nov. 5 that she would be prepared to succeed her husband.
The military denies having orchestrated a coup, and says it’s only targeting “criminals” close to the president who are damaging the country. Zanu-PF’s provincial committees singled out Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, Higher Education Minister Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere, the party’s political commissar, and said they should be expelled. The three officials, Mnangagwa, Mugabe and his wife were all absent from Sunday’s central committee meeting.
Under Zimbabwe’s constitution, the country’s remaining Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko should step in for Mugabe if he is removed from his post and the ruling party must nominate a replacement within 90 days.
“There’s no direction as to how that nomination takes place,” said Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean law lecturer who’s based in the U.K. and helped design Zimbabwe’s 2013 constitution. “The party can just say they have nominated Mnangagwa and he takes over soon after the impeachment.”
Mnangagwa, who has close ties to the military, is the leading contender to head a transitional government, which may include opposition figures, according to two people with knowledge of the situation who asked not to be identified because they aren’t authorized to comment.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said he hadn’t been approached by the military rulers for talks on a transitional government, adding that he’s prepared to meet with them. The military intervention resonated with the national public sentiment and was irreversible, and steps should now be taken to restore democracy, he said in a statement on Friday.
“The unprecedented rallies, involving tens of thousands of protesters, were starkly marked by the non-racial, non-partisan euphoria to once and for all drive Mugabe from power,” said Charles Laurie, head of African analysis at Bath, England-based Verisk Maplecroft. “Zimbabweans want to demonstrate to local leaders, and to the Mugabe-supporting African Union, that they insist on political change, now.”