Emmerson Mnangagwa, left, then Vice President of Zimbabwe chats with Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe after a swearing-in ceremony at State House in Harare. File picture: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Johannesburg – Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe is expected to hand over power imminently to his former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is believed to be planning a transitional government which will include the opposition, Zimbabwe's Financial Gazette reported Thursday afternoon.

Mnangagwa is expected to form a transitional government that would rule for five years, after which the country would hold elections, highly placed sources said. His mandate, according to the military plan, would include restoring the rule of law and stabilising the economy.

Zimbabwe intelligence reports suggest that former security chief Mnangagwa, who was sacked by Mugabe last week, together with the military has had plans for a post-Mugabe government for more than a year.

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Speculation that this plan is already underway has been fuelled by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s return to the capital Harare. Tsvangirai had been receiving cancer treatment in Britain and South Africa.

This breaking news follows earlier reports that despite the mediation of a Catholic priest to allow  93-year-old Mugabe to exit gracefully, he was insisting he remain as the country’s only legitimate leader according to an intelligence source. 

The priest, Fidelis Mukonori, was acting as a middle-man between Mugabe and the generals, who seized power this week in what they described as a targeted operation against “criminals” in Mugabe's entourage.

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However, the source would or could not provide details about the sensitive discussions which were attempting to secure a smooth and violence-free transition to a new government once Mugabe is gone.

Constantino Chiwenga, the commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF), and the one believed to be the architect behind the military take-over, had made several demands of Mugabe, which Mugabe had hitherto refused to agree to, prior to his subsequent change of mind.

Mugabe had also reportedly demanded that all his wife Grace's allies be accounted for after a number of senior ministers were arrested in the wake of what is now being widely acknowledged as a coup.

The whereabout of the politically-ambitious Grace Mugage remain unknown.

There were fears earlier that this impasse could have pushed the army into declaring a state of emergency, forcing the generals into an unenviable position that could have been interpreted as declaring marshall law, finally undermining  their claim that no coup had taken place.