Word came late Thursday that President Robert Mugabe will be stepping down, perhaps as early as Friday – but conflicting reports said Mugabe was reluctant to resign, and confusion remained over who and how new leaders might legitimately be established.
Media in Zimbabwe released pictures of Mugabe meeting with General Constantino Chiwenga, who days earlier had warned of military intervention over Mugabe’s removal of Zanu PF party members, Emmerson Mnangagwa among them, as the political struggle escalated over who would succeed the president. The images also showed Mugabe meeting with Father Fidelis Mukonori to discuss a peaceful transition of power.
Chiwenga’s statement and subsequent intervention by Zimbabwe’s military followed developments widely interpreted to be paving the way for Mugabe’s wife, Grace, to succeed the 93-year-old president. While Mugabe remained under house arrest near Harare, the whereabouts of his wife were unclear.
Former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, an opposition leader who – along with former vice president Joice Mujuru – may have a role in Zimbabwe’s new government, made a clear call Thursday evening for Mugabe to step down and make way for an inclusive transition process and reforms leading to “a free, fair and credible election.”
The Zimbabwean military has stressed that there is no coup d’etat, and no plans for a military-led government for the country. Yet the targeted arrests of Zimbabwean officials, as the military facilitates a political transition that bypasses an electoral process, has raised questions. Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo was among the first to be arrested, as were ministers Jonathan Moyo and Saviour Kasukuwere.
Local media outlets report that Foreign Affairs Minister Walter Mzembi, who was on a two-day trip to Zambia earlier this week, has not returned and considers himself a fugitive. All of the detained ministers were part of a Zanu PF faction that supported Grace Mugabe’s bid for president, against Mnangagwa as the likely successor to Mugabe’s 37 years in power.