November 19, 2017 7:42 am
Updated: November 20, 2017 11:27 am

Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe defies expectations, doesn’t announce resignation

WATCH: A Monday deadline imposed on Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to resign by his own ruling party passes with no word from the leader, setting up for formal impeachment proceedings in parliament.

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Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe defied expectations he would resign on Sunday, pledging to preside over a ZANU-PF congress next month even though the ruling party had removed him as its leader hours earlier.

READ MORE: In Photos: Zimbabweans take to streets in anticipation of Robert Mugabe removal

Mugabe’s 37-year rule has been effectively at an end since the army seized control on Wednesday, confining him to his residence, saying it wanted to target the “criminals” around him.

The leader of Zimbabwe’s war veterans said on Sunday plans to impeach President Robert Mugabe would go ahead as scheduled after the 93-year-old leader defied expectations that he would resign in a national address.

WATCH: Mugabe acknowledges criticism, says ‘we cannot be guided by bitterness’


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Mugabe, the only leader the southern African nation has known since independence from Britain in 1980, was replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, the deputy he sacked this month in a move that triggered the mid-week intervention by the army.

In scenes unthinkable just a week ago, the announcement drew cheers from the 200 delegates packed into ZANU-PF’s Harare headquarters to seal the fate of Mugabe, whose support has crumbled in the four days since the army seized power.

Mugabe was given until noon (1000 GMT) on Monday to resign or face impeachment, an ignominious end to the career of the “Grand Old Man” of African politics who was once feted across the continent as an anti-colonial liberation hero.

Even in the West, he was renowned in his early years as the “Thinking Man’s Guerrilla,” an ironic nickname for a man who would later proudly declare he held a “degree in violence.”

WATCH: ZANU-PF, Zimbabwe’s ruling party, said Sunday that President Robert Mugabe would have until Monday, Nov. 20 at noon to resign or impeachment proceedings would begin. They then reinstated Emmerson Mnangagwa, the deputy fired by Mugabe earlier this month, who is expected to head an interim government.

As the economy crumbled and political opposition to his rule grew in the late 1990s, Mugabe seized thousands of white-owned farms, detained opponents and unleashed security forces to crush dissent.

When the vote was announced, war veterans leader Chris Mutsvangwa, who has spearheaded an 18-month campaign to remove a man he openly described as a “dictator,” embraced colleagues and shouted: “The President is gone. Long live the new President.”

READ MORE: Robert Mugabe, only leader Zimbabwe has known for 37 years, set to be overthrown

Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace, who had harbored ambitions of succeeding her husband, was also expelled from ZANU-PF, along with at least three cabinet ministers who had formed the backbone of her “G40” political faction.

Speaking before the meeting, Mutsvangwa said Mugabe, who has so far resisted calls to quit, was running out of time to negotiate his departure and should leave the country while he could. “He’s trying to bargain for a dignified exit,” he said.

WATCH: Members of Zimbabwe’s ruling party, ZANU-PF, danced in celebration Sunday after the party reinstated former vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa. Mnangagwa was reinstated and named party chief after the party said President Robert Mugabe must resign by noon on Monday.

If Mugabe refused to go, “we will bring back the crowds and they will do their business,” Mutsvangwa told reporters.

Mnangagwa, a former state security chief known as “The Crocodile,” is expected to head an interim post-Mugabe unity government that will focus on rebuilding ties with the outside world and stabilizing an economy in freefall.

READ MORE: U.S. calls for ‘new era’ in Zimbabwe and asks Mugabe to step down

The next presidential election is due in 2018.

On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Harare, singing, dancing and hugging soldiers in an outpouring of elation at Mugabe’s expected overthrow.

His stunning downfall is likely to send shockwaves across Africa, where a number of entrenched strongmen, from Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni to Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila, are facing mounting pressure to step down.

WATCH: Armoured vehicles seen near Zimbabwe’s capitol, military denies takeover

“READY TO DIE”

On Saturday, men, women and children ran alongside the armored cars and troops who stepped in to target what the army called “criminals” in Mugabe’s inner circle.

Meanwhile, the man himself remained under house arrest in his lavish “Blue Roof” compound, watching the support from his party, security services and people evaporate.

Speaking from a secret location in South Africa, his nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, told Reuters Mugabe and his wife were “ready to die for what is correct” rather than step down in order to legitimize what he described as a coup.

Zhuwao, who was also sanctioned by ZANU-PF, did not answer his phone on Sunday. However, Mugabe’s son Chatunga railed against those who had pushed out his father.

WATCH: Zimbabwe army says it has taken power, Mugabe ‘safe and sound’

“You can’t fire a Revolutionary leader!” he wrote on this Facebook page. “ZANU-PF is nothing without President Mugabe.”

“SECOND LIBERATION”

On Harare’s streets, few seemed to care about the legal niceties as they heralded a “second liberation” and spoke of their dreams for political and economic change after two decades of deepening repression and hardship.

More than 3 million Zimbabweans – around 20 percent of the population – have emigrated to neighboring South Africa in search of a better life.

The huge crowds in Harare have given a quasi-democratic veneer to the army’s intervention, backing its assertion that it is merely effecting a constitutional transfer of power, rather than a plain coup, which would risk a diplomatic backlash.

WATCH: Armoured vehicles seen near Zimbabwe’s capitol, military denies takeover

Despite the euphoria, some Mugabe opponents are uneasy about the prominent role played by the military, and fear Zimbabwe might be swapping one army-backed autocrat for another, rather than allowing the people to choose their next leader.

“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 said.

The United States, a longtime Mugabe critic, said it was looking forward to a new era in Zimbabwe, while President Ian Khama of neighboring Botswana said Mugabe had no diplomatic support in the region and should resign at once.

Besides changing its leadership, ZANU-PF said it wanted to change the constitution to reduce the power of the president, a possible sign of its desire to move towards a more pluralistic and inclusive political system.

However, Mnangagwa’s history as state security chief during the so-called Gukurahundi crackdown, when an estimated 20,000 people were killed by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland in the early 1980s, suggested that quick, sweeping change was unlikely.

“The deep state that engineered this change of leadership will remain, thwarting any real democratic reform,” said Miles Tendi, a Zimbabwean academic at Oxford University.

© 2017 Reuters

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