Harare, Zimbabwe – A day after tens of thousands of Zimbabweans rallied to demand Robert Mugabe relinquish power, calls for the 93-year-old to quit grew louder leading up to a second round of negotiations between the president and army.
Members of the Central Committee of Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party, which has turned against its leader, are meeting on Sunday to decide on the president’s fate.
They will vote on recalling Mugabe as first secretary of the liberation movement – essentially removing him as party leader – and reinstating sacked Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
In opening remarks, Obert Mpofu, the minister of home affairs who is chairing the meeting, blamed First Lady Grace Mugabe and her allies for taking advantage of the veteran leader.
“We meet here today with a heavy heart because Mugabe’s wife and her close associates have taken advantage of his frail condition and abused the resources of the country,” he told members. “I warmly welcome you all to this historic meeting which will mark a new era, not only for our country but for the party.”
Members cheered as the resolution to recall Mugabe was read out.
According to the party constitution, there needs to be a quorum of 150 plus on members to pass decisions. Of more than 300 members, 171 are in attendance.
Earlier on Sunday, the Zanu-PF Youth League, which Grace Mugabe leads, called for her expulsion from Zanu-PF “forever” and demanded the president to resign as leader of the country and party, “so that he can rest as the elderly statesman he is”.
The group also condemned the “unprocedural expulsion” of Mnangagwa, who Mugabe sacked on November 6.
Chris Mutsvangwa, head of the Zimbabwe National Liberation War Veterans Association, later told reporters in Harare: “The army must finish with him today. He’d better give in to them now.”
Mugabe has been under military quarantine at his residence since Wednesday, when the army placed him under house arrest and took over state TV and key government sites.
According to the Sunday Mail, a state-owned weekly paper, talks between Mugabe and the army commanders will be mediated by Catholic Priest, Father Fidelis Mukonori.
Mukonori facilitated the first round of mediation talks on Thursday, attended by two South African envoys representing President Jacob Zuma.
Sunday’s meeting will include two local government mediators, Aaron Nhepera, the acting director-general of the Central Intelligence Organisation, and George Charamba, the presidential press secretary and secretary for media, information and broadcasting services, the paper says.
Mugabe’s decision to sack Mnangagwa, who was touted as his most likely successor, spurred an internal power struggle.
First Lady Grace Mugabe was tipped to takeover as second secretary and vice president, prompting a military takeover with the army saying it wanted to “target criminals” around Mugabe who were leading the party and state astray.
In a rare sign of solidarity between the people and the army, which has often been a pillar of support for Mugabe’s near 40-year rule, Zimbabweans on Saturday expressed support and praise for the military’s operation.
Huge crowds swelled on the streets.
Civilians could be seen giving hugs and fist bumps to soldiers, and taking selfies with army personnel camped outside parliament, the presidential offices and other strategic sites.
There was a convivial mood in the capital as people played loud music and danced after marching to State House to demand Mugabe’s resignation, in scenes described as “historic” and representing a “day of freedom”.
Zimbabweans have never before gathered in such numbers to march against Mugabe.
Activist pastor Evan Mawarire has called for a “breakthrough prayer” on Sunday for Zimbabweans to come together and pray for a change to the struggling nation’s fortunes.
Mawarire, who attended Sunday’s march, stressed he does not support the army takeover but described the rally as “a momentous occasion” and an opportunity for a “fresh start” to advance democratic change.
In 2016, Mawarire called for a strike, the first mass protest in almost a decade. He has previously faced charges of undermining the president and trying to overthrow an elected government for calling on Zimbabweans to protest against spiralling economic and political problems.
— David Pocock (@pocockdavid) November 19, 2017
Regional dignitaries from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), of which South African President Zuma chairs, are keenly watching the unfolding situation.
The SADC bloc is expected to hold an extraordinary session on Tuesday to discuss the Zimbabwe situation in neighbouring Botswana where the SADC is headquarters is located.
While the region’s leaders remain silent on Mugabe’s fate, Botswana’s President Ian Khama has openly called for the world’s oldest president to step down.
Follow Tendai Marima on Twitter @i_amten