Zimbabweans Want Mugabe Out – Once Loved But Now Hated

Thousands of Zimbabweans flooded the streets of Harare on Saturday, waving national flags, singing and dancing in an outpouring of elation at the expected fall of President Robert Mugabe.
The 93-year-old Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, on Thursday in Harare maintained that even though is party would choose a successor, he planned to contest the next election in 2018.
“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.”
On Friday, President Ian Khama of Botswana urged Mugabe to end his attempts to remain in office after the military seized power, as he has no regional diplomatic support to stay in power.
The military intervention, which political sources say could pave the way to a national unity government after 37 years of Mugabe rule, also presented “an opportunity to put Zimbabwe on a path to peace and prosperity”, Khama told Reuters.
“I don’t think anyone should be President for that amount of time. We are Presidents, we are not monarchs. It’s just common sense,” Khama said.
Earlier, Mugabe arrived at a university graduation ceremony in the capital on Friday, his first public appearance since a military seizure of power that political sources say is aimed at ending his 37 years in office.
First heralded as a liberator who rid the former British colony Rhodesia of white minority rule, Mugabe was soon cast in the role of a despot who crushed political dissent and ruined the national economy.
After years behind bars as a political prisoner, Mugabe then led a bloody liberation war, which coupled with sanctions, forced the Rhodesian government to the negotiating table, with the country finally winning independence as Zimbabwe in 1980.
In elections that year, Mugabe swept to power as prime minister, initially winning international plaudits for his policy of racial reconciliation and for extending improved education and health services to the black majority. But his lustre faded quickly.
After his release from prison in 1974, Mugabe had taken over as head of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) which joined forces in the liberation struggle with Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU).
Nkomo was one of the early casualties of Mugabe’s crackdown on dissent.
In 1982, he was dismissed from government, where he held the home affairs portfolio, after the discovery of an arms cache in his Matabeleland stronghold.
Mugabe, whose party drew most of its support from the ethnic Shona majority, then unleashed his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade on Nkomo’s Ndebele people in a campaign that left an estimated 20,000 people dead.
It was the seizure of white-owned farms nearly two decades later that would complete Mugabe’s transformation from darling of the West into international pariah — though his status as a liberation hero still resonates in many parts of Africa.
Aimed largely at placating angry war veterans who threatened to destabilise his rule, the land reform policy wrecked the crucial agricultural sector, caused foreign investors to flee and helped plunge the country into economic misery.
At the same time, critics say, Mugabe clung to power through increased repression of human rights and by rigging elections.
On Friday he appeared in a graduation ceremony. He wore blue and yellow academic robes and a mortar board hat and appeared to fall asleep in his chair as his eyes closed and his head lolled.
He said he is still in charge but a senior member of the ZANU-PF ruling party said it wanted him gone.
“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.”
In contrast, the military said in a statement on national television it was “engaging” with Mugabe.
It referred to him as Commander in Chief and said it would announce an outcome as soon as possible.
Mugabe is revered as an elder statesman and member of the generation of Africa’s independence leaders but he is also viewed by many in Africa as a president who held his country back by remaining in power for too long.
He calls himself the grand old man of African politics. Zimbabwe’s official newspaper, the Herald, ran photographs late on Thursday showing him grinning and shaking hands with military chief Gen. Constantino Chiwenga, who seized power this week.
The images stunned Zimbabweans who thought it meant Mugabe was managing to hold out against Chiwenga’s coup, with some political sources saying he was trying to delay his departure until elections scheduled for next year.
The ZANU-PF source said that was not the case. Anxious to avoid a protracted stalemate, party leaders were drawing up plans to dismiss Mugabe at the weekend if he refused to quit, the source said. “There is no going back,” the source told Reuters.
“It’s like a match delayed by heavy rain, with the home side leading 90-0 in the 89th minute.” The army is camped on his doorstep. His wife, Grace, is under house arrest, and her key political allies are in military custody.
The police, once a bastion of support, have showed no signs of resistance.
Furthermore, he has little popular backing in the capital, a stronghold of support for opposition parties that have tapped into the anger and frustration at his handling of the economy, which collapsed after the seizure of white-owned farms in 2000.
Unemployment is now running at nearly 90 percent and chronic shortages of hard currency have triggered hyperinflation, with the prices of imports rising as much as 50 per cent a month.
The only words Mugabe spoke at the graduation ceremony were met with ululations from the crowd. In a telling irony, one of the graduates was the wife of Army Chief, Chiwenga.
The U.S., a longtime Mugabe critic, is seeking “a new era”, the State Department’s top official for Africa said, an implicit call for Mugabe to quit.
In an interview with Reuters, acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto appeared to dismiss the idea of keeping Mugabe in an interim or ceremonial role.
“It’s a transition to a new era for Zimbabwe, that’s really what we’re hoping for,” Yamamoto said.
The army appears to want Mugabe to go quietly and allow a smooth and bloodless transition to Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Vice President, whose sacking last week triggered the military takeover.
The main goal of the generals is to prevent Mugabe from handing power to his wife, Grace, who appeared on the cusp of power after Mnangagwa was pushed out.
Born on February 21, 1924 into a Catholic family at Kutama Mission northwest of Harare, Mugabe was described as a loner, and a studious child known to carry a book even while tending cattle in the bush.
After his carpenter father walked out on the family when he was 10, the young Mugabe concentrated on his studies, qualifying as a schoolteacher at the age of 17.
An intellectual who initially embraced Marxism, he enrolled at Fort Hare University in South Africa, meeting many of southern Africa’s future black nationalist leaders.
After teaching in Ghana, where he was influenced by founder President Kwame Nkrumah, Mugabe returned to Rhodesia where he was detained for his nationalist activities in 1964 and spent the next 10 years in prison camps or jail.
During his incarceration, he gained three degrees through correspondence, but the years in prison left their mark.
His four-year-old son by his first wife, Ghanaian-born Sally Francesca Hayfron, died while he was behind bars. Rhodesian leader Ian Smith denied him leave to attend the funeral.
Years later, Mugabe had two sons and a daughter by second wife Grace.
The ambition of the First Lady, who had been viewed as a front-runner to replace her husband, is widely seen by analysts as the catalyst for the military takeover as the army refused to accept her as Mugabe’s successor.
“His real obsession was not with personal wealth but with power,” said biographer Martin Meredith.
“Year after year Mugabe sustained his rule through violence and repression — crushing political opponents, violating the courts, trampling on property rights, suppressing the independent press and rigging elections.”

Author: News Editor

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