The fate of Robert Mugabe remained in doubt on Thursday, as he reportedly negotiated with the Zimbabwean military to either retain power or receive safe passage out of the country into exile. Late Thursday afternoon, AFP reported that Mugabe refused to resign during his “crunch meeting” with the military.
“They met today. He is refusing to step down. I think he is trying to buy time,” a source close to the Zimbabwean military leadership told AFP.
The U.K. Guardian posted photos from Zimbabwean media of Mugabe meeting with General Constantino Chiwenga, who presumably is no longer pretending this is anything but a coup, although the two did make a point of being photographed while smiling and shaking hands. There also seems to be little further pretense that Mugabe is merely in protective custody rather than house arrest while the military “targets criminals” around him.
The Guardian reports Mugabe has “described the takeover as illegal and was resisting pressure to resign,” and also refused offers by an old friend who is a Catholic priest to mediate with Chiwenga. The BBC reports that envoys from South Africa were present at the meeting, however.
Another gloomy sign for the 93-year-old Mugabe’s continued rule is that his arch-rival and former deputy Morgan Tsvangirai has returned to Zimbabwe, having left to receive treatment for colon cancer, and is calling for Mugabe to “resign and step down immediately in line with the national expectation and sentiment.”
The Harare Financial Gazette reports that plans for a transitional government including opposition leaders are being made, with Mugabe’s most recent deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa – whose sacking to clear the decks for Mugabe’s wife Grace to succeed him precipitated the current crisis – taking over.
According to the Financial Gazette, the army has been rather preposterously insisting they are not staging a coup is that they do not want to “embarrass” Mugabe. “There is a suggestion that they could retain him as an honorary leader of the party. They want to create a new paradigm that you don’t chase anyone from a party formed by many people, most of them now departed,” a source familiar with the negotiations said.
Evidently, that sense of delicate respect does not extend in both directions. The FG reports that Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party has accused General Chiwenga of “treasonable conduct.” There are rumors that senior army officers were alarmed by the prospect of Grace Mugabe purging the security services and installing her own loyalists if she became president.
Reuters reports that two of Grace Mugabe’s key allies, cabinet ministers Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere, are under house arrest alongside the Mugabes, but only because they hightailed it to the Mugabe estate after the army kicked their doors down (or, in Moyo’s case, blew the door off its hinges with explosives).
The Zimbabwe crisis has some interesting international ramifications. The Financial Gazette reports speculation that Chiwenga traveled to China last week to secure Beijing’s quiet blessing for the coup. South Africa appears to support the coup, while also acting to secure the Mugabe family’s personal safety.
The African Union, on the other hand, seems determined to support Mugabe. “We demand respect for the Constitution, a return to the constitutional order and we will never accept the military coup d’etat,” African Union leader Alpha Conde said from Paris on Thursday. “We know there are internal problems. They need to be resolved politically by the ZANU-PF party and not with an intervention by the army.”
If Mugabe will not agree to resign, other options on the table reportedly include asking the Zimbabwean Parliament for a vote of no confidence or impeaching him on charges of undermining the national constitution.
Outside observers of Mugabe’s depredations would find either of those outcomes much softer than he deserves, but he might not even get that much of a slap on the wrist, given the military’s desire to arrange a smooth transfer of power with minimal unrest. While many reports say Mugabe is resisting resignation, others claim he has negotiated a deal to secure safe passage into exile, possibly into South Africa, with his wife preceding him.