Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans flooded the streets of Harare on Saturday, singing, dancing and hugging soldiers in an extraordinary outpouring of elation at the expected fall of President Robert Mugabe, their leader of the last 37 years.
Mugabe, the only ruler Zimbabwe has known since independence from Britain in 1980, has been holed up in his lavish ‘Blue Roof’ compound, from where he has watched support from his Zanu-PF party, the security services and the people evaporate in the wake of a military seizure of power on Wednesday.
On the streets of the capital, Zimbabweans let their emotions run free as they spoke of political and economic change after two decades of repression and deepening hardship.
“These are tears of joy,” Frank Mutsindikwa, 34, told Reuters, holding aloft the Zimbabwean flag. “I’ve been waiting all my life for this day. Free at last. We are free at last.”
Some held aloft placards reading “No to Mugabe dynasty” and pumping their fists in the air in a sign of freedom. Others embraced the soldiers who seized power, shouting “Thank you! Thank you!” in scenes unthinkable even a week ago.
“These are our leaders now,” said Remember Moffat, 22, waving a picture of army commander Constantino Chiwenga and Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice president whose sacking this month precipitated the military intervention.
“My dream is to see a new Zimbabwe. I’ve only known this tyrant called Mugabe my whole life.”
The ruling ZANU-PF called on Friday for Mugabe to resign, the main state newspaper The Herald reported, in a clear sign that the 93-year-old leader’s authority has gone.
Mugabe is admired by some in Africa as an elder statesman and anti-colonial hero. But many more at home and abroad revile him as a dictator happy to resort to violence to retain power and to run a once-promising economy into the ground.
The Herald, a normally loyal Mugabe mouthpiece, said ZANU-PF branches in all 10 provinces were also calling for Mugabe’s wife Grace, whose ambitions to succeed her husband have outraged the military and much of the country, to resign from the party.
A senior member of ZANU-PF told Reuters the party wanted Mugabe out, and would not tolerate foot-dragging.
“If he becomes stubborn, we will arrange for him to be fired on Sunday,” the source said. “When that is done, it’s impeachment on Tuesday.”
Pointedly, the military threw its weight behind Saturday’s “solidarity march”, part of an apparent attempt to give its use of force a veneer of massive popular support, to avoid the diplomatic backlash that normally follows coups.