Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has refused to resign after meeting generals who have seized control of the country, as sources suggested the veteran leader was “buying time” to negotiate his exit.
The talks in Harare on Thursday come after soldiers this week put Mugabe under house arrest, took over state TV and blockaded main roads in a stunning turnaround for the 93-year-old leader who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1980.
Mugabe’s motorcade took him from his private residence to the State House for the talks, which were also attended by envoys from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc.
“They met today. He is refusing to step down. I think he is trying to buy time,” said a source close to the army leadership who declined to be named.
Government TV showed Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, dressed in a navy blue blazer and grey trousers standing alongside army chief General Constantino Chiwenga who smiled and was dressed in fatigues.
Zimbabwe was left stunned by this week’s military intervention but attention has swiftly shifted to the prominent figures who could play a role in any transitional government.
Mugabe’s advanced age, poor health and listless public performances have fuelled a bitter succession battle between his wife Grace and former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who Mugabe sacked last week.
Mnangagwa, 75, was previously one of Mugabe’s most loyal lieutenants, having worked alongside him for decades.
But he fled to South Africa following his dismissal and published a scathing rebuke of Mugabe’s leadership and Grace’s presidential ambitions.
The generals are strongly opposed to Grace Mugabe’s rise, while Mnangagwa has maintained close ties to the army and could emerge as the next president.
U.S. wants ‘new era’ in Zimbabwe
The United States is seeking “a new era” for Zimbabwe, the State Department’s top official for Africa said on Thursday, implicitly calling on long-time President Robert Mugabe to step aside as a political crisis mounts.
In an interview with Reuters, acting Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto appeared to dismiss the idea of Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years, remaining in a transitional or ceremonial role.
“It’s a transition to a new era for Zimbabwe, that’s really what we’re hoping for,” Yamamoto said.
Zimbabwe’s army seized power this week, in an apparent effort to prevent Mugabe, 93, from handing power to his wife. He has not resigned or been formally deposed, however, and he was pictured on Thursday shaking hands with the military chief, Constantino Chiwenga.
Yamamoto, speaking on the sidelines of a meeting with African Union officials at the State Department in Washington, described the situation in Zimbabwe as “very fluid.”
The United States would discuss lifting multiple U.S. sanctions on Zimbabwe if it began enacting political and economic reforms, he said.
In a message for Zimbabwe’s political leaders, he said: “Our position has always been that if they engage in the constitutional reforms, economic and political reforms, and move forward to protecting political space and the human rights, then we can start the dialogue on lifting sanctions.”
The United States has not given aid to Zimbabwe’s government for many years, but provides development aid to nongovernmental groups, particularly for healthcare.