Kevin Sieff, Washington Post, November 19, 2017
Zimbabweans watched in disbelief Sunday as President Robert Mugabe, who they thought was going to resign, instead delivered a meandering speech on state television that made clear the 93-year-old leader has no plans to leave power.
In less than a week, Mugabe has survived both a military takeover and the largest public protests in the country’s history, reaffirming his uncanny ability to navigate the political tides.
Mugabe said the criticisms leveled against his government “were inescapable.” But he suggested that he could make the necessary reforms to satisfy his critics, a doubtful contention given the overwhelming opposition to his rule. That opposition was underscored Sunday, hours before his speech, when his own party dismissed him as leader. The party, ZANU-PF, also told Mugabe that he must resign by noon Monday or face impeachment proceedings.
Those actions, unimaginable only a week ago, added to the groundswell of public support for the ejection of the world’s oldest head of state.
“He is senile and obviously his faculties were beginning to deteriorate,” said Christopher Mutsvangwa, a member of the ZANU-PF central committee, which voted to oust Mugabe from the party.
But Mugabe did not resign. He spoke obliquely about the country’s economic challenges and disaffection with some of his party’s “rules and procedures.” He said those matters would be “settled and discussed” at next month’s party congress.
It was “proof of his psychotic obsession with power,” said Fadzayi Mahere, a lawyer and politician. “We must never put ourselves in this place as a nation ever again.”
Now, Mugabe’s critics are trying to sort out another way to unseat him. While the party’s vote against him is a sign of its opposition, it does not have any immediate effect on Mugabe’s position as president. The party leaders have control only over their ranks and cannot influence the composition of Zimbabwe’s government.
The chief whip of the ruling party, Lovemore Matuke, said impeachment proceedings would start Tuesday. After 37 years in power, Mugabe is now technically a leader without a party, his closest allies having been detained by the military.
It is possible that the military will now move to oust Mugabe by force, but so far its commanders have gone out of their way to accommodate him, still referring to him as their commander in chief. In a picture taken Sunday and released by the state-owned newspaper, a general saluted Mugabe while the president stood behind his desk, one of many signs that Zimbabwe was hardly undergoing a textbook coup.
The military commanders have appeared intent on giving the public impression that they are not conducting a coup — probably to preserve the veneer of legitimacy that would sustain their relationship with the international community. In its bylaws, the regional bloc of southern African nations includes strong language against coups.
“Zimbabwe’s army is the voice of the people,” one popular sign read.
By the time a protest march on Saturday was over, signs for Robert Mugabe Road had been trampled.