HARARE (Reuters) – President Robert Mugabe is insisting he remains Zimbabwe’s only legitimate ruler and balking at mediation by a Catholic priest to allow the 93-year-old former guerrilla a graceful exit after a military coup, sources said yesterday.
A political source who spoke to senior allies holed up with Mr Mugabe and his wife, Grace, in his lavish “Blue House” Harare compound said Mr Mugabe had no plans to resign voluntarily ahead of elections scheduled for next year.
“It’s a sort of stand-off, a stalemate,” the source said. “They are insisting the president must finish his term.”
The army’s Wednesday takeover signalled the collapse in less than 36 hours of the security, intelligence and patronage networks that sustained Mr Mugabe through 37 years in power and built him into the “Grand Old Man” of African politics.
The priest, Fidelis Mukonori, who has been mediating between Mr Mugabe and the generals who seized power in a targeted operation against “criminals” in his entourage, had also made little headway, a senior political source said.
The army appears to want Mr Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, to go quietly and allow a smooth and bloodless transition to former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Still seen by many Africans as a liberation hero, Mr Mugabe is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power pauperised one of Africa’s most promising states.
A fighter, both literally and figuratively during a political career that included several assassination attempts, Mr Mugabe now appears to have reached the end of the road.
With the army camped on his front door and the police – once seen as a bastion of support – showing no signs of resistance, force is not an option. Similarly, he has no popular backing in the capital, where he is widely loathed, and his influence in the ruling ZANU-PF party is evaporating.
ZANU-PF youth leader Kudzai Chipanga, a vocal Mugabe supporter, publicly apologised for opposing
the army after being marched into the state television headquarters to read out a statement, sources at the broadcaster said.
He was then taken back to the army’s main KGVI barracks in Harare, where Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo is also being held, an army source said.
Video footage obtained by Reuters from the houses of two key Grace Mugabe allies – cabinet ministers Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere – indicated the army was also prepared to use lethal force if necessary.
Mr Moyo’s front door was blown open with explosives, scattering glass across the entrance hall, while the inside walls of Mr Kasukuwere’s house were pocked with bullet holes.
The pair managed to escape on the evening of the coup and make it to Mr Mugabe’s compound, where they remain under effective house arrest, one political source said.
Zimbabwean intelligence reports seen by Reuters suggest Mr Mugabe’s exit was in the planning for more than a year.
Mr Mnangagwa, a former security chief and life-long Mugabe confidant known as “The Crocodile” who was axed as vice-president earlier this month, is the key player.
According to the files and political sources in Zimbabwe and South Africa, once Mr Mugabe’s resignation is secured Mr Mnangagwa would take over as president of an interim unity government that will seek to stabilise the imploding economy.