Zimbabwe was calm yesterday even as it faces uncertainty amid quiet talks to resolve the political crisis and the likely end of President Robert Mugabe’s decades-long rule.
Envoys from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are trying to reach a deal on the future of Zimbabwe and Mugabe who has led the country for 37 years. SADC officials converged on Botswana for a meeting chaired by South Africa and Angola. Their recommendations will be given to heads of state and government.
Reports said SADC, ministers were already in Harare meeting with Mugabe and the army separately.
Mugabe has been in military custody, reportedly with his wife, and there was no sign of the recently fired deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa, who fled the country last week, Associated Press reported. The military remained in the streets of Harare.
Witnesses confirmed a sighting of Mugabe’s motorcade moving through the capital, Harare, its destination unknown. They said a helicopter was hovering at the same time the motorcade was sighted. It was not immediately clear where the motorcade was going.
African Union leader Alpha Conde, said: “The African Union expresses its serious concern regarding the situation unfolding in Zimbabwe.” He went on to insist that “constitutional order… be restored immediately” and called “on all stakeholders to show responsibility and restraint”.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres appealed for calm, non-violence and restraint after gunfire and explosions were heard near Mugabe’s compound.
Seizing on the political limbo to speak out, a range of voices yesterday urged Mugabe to step aside and for the country to transition into free and fair elections. Reports said sources suggest Mugabe may be resisting pressure to step down, insisting he remains the legitimate president.
Sticking points are said to include what role Mnangagwa will play and the security of Mugabe’s family.
ZANU-PF’s United Kingdom representative, Nick Mangwana, has suggested to the BBC that Mugabe could remain nominally in power until the party congress in December, when Mnangagwa would be formally installed as party and national leader.
Head of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party and the main opposition leader in Zimbabwe, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai said yesterday: “In the interests of the people, Mr Robert Mugabe must resign… immediately”.
Tsvangirai, who has been abroad receiving treatment for cancer, also called for a “negotiated all-inclusive transitional mechanism” that would lead to “comprehensive reforms for free and fair elections to be held”.
This has been echoed by another Zimbabwean opposition leader, Tendai Biti, who told the BBC: “It is urgent that we go back to democracy… that we go back to legitimacy but we need a transitional period and I think, I hope, that dialogue can now be opened between the army and Zimbabweans.”
The People’s Democratic Party said in a statement yesterday that the transitional authority should be “made up of competent Zimbabweans whose mandate will be to put in place measures to turn around the economy” and build a better society for all.
Zimbabwean vice president who was fired in 2014, Joice Mujuru, called for “free, fair and credible elections.” She told reporters she was heartened by assurances given so far that condemn violence and encourage peace. She said she has not been contacted by the military or Mnangagwa’s people.
More than 100 civil society groups have issued a statement urging Mugabe to peacefully step aside and asked the military to quickly restore order and respect the constitution. A joint statement by churches also appealed for calm. The Zimbabwean pastor whose social media campaign led to the largest anti-government protests in a decade called on citizens to “stand up for peace.”
Evan Mawarire, who founded the #ThisFlag movement, asked: “Should we just sit and wait or shall we at least be part of this transition process?” He urged that citizens not wait for regional leaders to broker the next phase. Members of the opposition, civil society and religious groups called for calm and respect for rights.