Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe vows to stay on despite party pressure

By BBC

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(BBC) – Zimbabwe’s embattled leader Robert Mugabe has vowed to stay in power for several weeks, despite mounting calls for him to stand down now.

In a live TV address, Mr Mugabe said he would preside over the ruling party’s congress in December.

Zanu-PF earlier sacked him as party leader, and gave him less than 24 hours to resign as president or be impeached.

His grip on power has weakened since the military intervened on Wednesday, in a row over who should succeed him.

The crisis began when the 93-year-old president sacked his deputy, Emmerson Mnangagwa, two weeks ago, angering army commanders who saw it as an attempt to position his wife as his successor.

Mugabe defies expectations

Crowds had gathered in Harare to watch the speech, with Mr Mugabe widely expected to resign.

Instead though, flanked by military generals, he said “the [ruling Zanu-PF] party congress is due in a few weeks and I will preside over its processes”.

President Mugabe acknowledged criticism from Zanu-PF, the military and public, and stressed the need to return Zimbabwe to normality.

“Whatever the pros and cons of how they [the army] went about their operation, I, as commander-in-chief, do acknowledge their concerns,” he said, in reference to the army’s move last week to take over the state broadcaster.

The BBC’s Africa Editor, Fergal Keane, said his understanding of the situation was that Mr Mugabe had agreed to resign, but then changed his mind.

Confusion reigns in Zimbabwe

In his stumbling, 20-minute address, Robert Mugabe made no mention of the deafening calls, from the public and from his own party, to resign as president.

Instead, he declared that the military had done nothing wrong, by seizing power, and placing him under house arrest earlier in the week.

The 93-year-old, reading from notes, and often losing his place, then implied he would remain Zimbabwe’s leader at least until next month’s Zanu-PF congress, ignoring the fact that earlier he was stripped of any official role within the party.

He did acknowledge failings, and factionalism in the government and party but made no mention of his wife, Grace, who was expelled from the party.

Quite where this leaves the political stalemate here is unclear. Zanu-PF has vowed to impeach Mr Mugabe if he doesn’t resign by noon (10:00 GMT) on Monday.

Mr Mugabe is clearly playing for time. But Zimbabwe’s military leadership is now at odds with the newly purged governing party. Public frustration is growing. And a dangerously unpredictable standoff has now been prolonged.

Where does this leave Zimbabwe?

Earlier on Sunday, Mr Mnangagwa was named as Zanu-PF’s new leader and candidate for the 2018 general elections.
At the same party meeting, Mr Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife, Grace, was expelled, alongside a number of other senior officials.

It is not entirely clear how Robert Mugabe can preside over Zanu-PF’s congress next month, following his dismissal as party leader.

Party positions are officially decided at the congress and Emmerson Mnangagwa may officially take over leading the country then.

Mr Mnangagwa, a former state security chief, is nicknamed “the crocodile” for his perceived shrewdness. He fled Zimbabwe after his sacking a fortnight ago, but has since reportedly returned.

What’s the reaction been?

The head of the influential War Veterans Association, which used to back Mr Mugabe but now demands his resignation, told AFP they would call for further protests.

“That speech has nothing to do with realities. We will go for impeachment and we are calling people back to the streets,” said Chris Mutsvangwa.

Impeaching the president would require a two-thirds majority in both houses of Zimbabwe’s parliament, which is due to resume on Tuesday.

The opposition MDC-T party has tried unsuccessfully to impeach Mr Mugabe in the past, but this time the ruling party – which has an overwhelming majority in both houses – is likely to go against him.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said he was “baffled” by the president’s address.

“He’s playing a game. He has let the whole nation down,” he told Reuters news agency.

Mr Mugabe has been leader of Zimbabwe for 37 years, having led the country since it gained independence from Britain in 1980.

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