Mugabe addressed the nation on Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster ZBC amid reports that he would resign, but the president ended his TV speech without announcing his resignation.
Zanu-PF had given the 93-year-old less than 24 hours to quit as head of state or face impeachment, an attempt to secure a peaceful end to his tenure after a de facto coup.
Mugabe, the only leader the southern African nation has known since independence from Britain in 1980, was replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, the deputy he sacked this month in a move that triggered the mid-week intervention by the army.
Mugabe has been given until noon today to resign or face impeachment, an ignominious end to the career of the “Grand Old Man” of African politics who was once fêted across the continent as an anti-colonial liberation hero.
Earlier yesterday when the vote to expel Mugabe from Zanu-PF was announced, war veterans leader Chris Mutsvangwa, who has spearheaded an 18-month campaign to remove a man he openly described as a “dictator”, embraced colleagues and shouted: “The President is gone. Long live the new President.”
Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace, who had harboured ambitions of succeeding her husband, was also expelled from Zanu-PF, along with at least a quarter of the cabinet who had formed the backbone of her “G40” political faction.
Speaking before the meeting, Mutsvangwa said Mugabe, who has so far resisted calls to quit, was running out of time to negotiate his departure and should leave the country while he could. “He’s trying to bargain for a dignified exit,” he said.
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If Mugabe refused to go, “we will bring back the crowds and they will do their business”, Mutsvangwa told reporters.
Mnangagwa, a former state security chief known as “The Crocodile”, is expected to head an interim post-Mugabe unity government that will focus on rebuilding ties with the outside world and stabilising an economy in freefall.
The next presidential election is due in 2018.
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Harare, singing, dancing and hugging soldiers in an outpouring of elation at Mugabe’s expected overthrow.
A day after massive crowds marched peacefully in Harare and Bulawayo for Mugabe to go, 201 of the 300 members of Zanu-PF’s Central Committee fired Mugabe and expelled his key allies - that including his wife Grace - from the party.
The special central committee special session held at the party’s headquarters in the capital was a brutal clean-out of close to 20 trusted Mugabe lieutenants.
The list is headed by the ageing Zimbabwe leader’s master strategist Professor Jonathan Moyo, Local Government Minister Saviour Kasukuwere, Vice-President Phelekezela Mphoko and jailed Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo.
Not spared in the mass purge was Mugabe’s nephew Patrick Zhuwao, Foreign Affairs Minister Walter Mzembi and Minister of Sport Makhosini Hlongwane - all believed to be in hiding in South Africa since the army took control of the government last week. Senior party leader Patrick Chinamasa announced the resolutions to recall Mugabe as president and revealed the firing of what he termed the “criminal cabal” to wild applause from the committee members.
He further gave the cornered Zimbabwe leader until noon today (Monday) to resign as president of the country or risk facing impeachment.
“The central committee special session has passed the resolution to recall Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe as party first secretary. He must forthwith resign tomorrow by midday as Zimbabwe President, failing which the Zanu-PF chief whip will institute proceedings to have him removed through a parliamentary process,” said Chinamasa.
Using Parliament is the second part of the two-pronged plan to end Mugabe’s 37-year-old firm rule of the impoverished country.
As the end for Mugabe came in sight, his former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa’s path to replace him was cleared.
The central committee did not only reverse Mnangagwa’s dismissal but also appointed him interim party leader until the December congress when he is expected to be unanimously elected.
“The unconstitutional removal of Emmerson Mnangagwa from the party is hereby nullified.
“We have also named him the Zanu-PF presidential candidate for next year’s national elections,” said Chinamasa. - Additional reporting: Reuters