Harare – A lot has happened in the past few days in Zimbabwe, where the world’s oldest head of state tries to remain in power even under military house arrest. Thousands of giddy Zimbabweans are in the streets to demand his departure, tired of a collapsing economy that once was one of Africa’s strongest. Here’s a quick guide to the key events and players:
The 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe has been under house arrest since Tuesday, when the military moved in. That decision was sparked by Mugabe’s firing of his longtime deputy, leading to fears that the president was positioning his unpopular wife, Grace (pictured), to succeed him. Mugabe is said to be asking for more time amid negotiations on his departure. The military has been taking pains to refer to him as president and allowed him to make a public appearance Friday at a graduation ceremony, where he received polite applause.
Several thousand people are in the streets of the capital, Harare, to demand Mugabe’s exit as Zimbabweans giddily explore the rare freedom of expression amid the political limbo. Saturday’s demonstration was approved by the military and has participation from across the political spectrum, from Mugabe’s once-staunch loyalists among the liberation war veterans to opposition activists long-used to police crackdowns.
Zimbabwe’s army commander on Monday threatened to “step in” after Mugabe fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and the next day he did. In an extraordinary image later in the week, state-run media published photos of General Constantino Chiwenga shaking hands with a smiling Mugabe at the State House as negotiations with regional leaders continued. The military is trying not to project the image of a coup, which could bring regional sanctions and further harm the country’s standing with international investors.
The next leaders
Mnangagwa fled the country shortly after his firing by Mugabe and his whereabouts are unknown. He is expected to lead any new government, and his supporters say he will make a public appearance once arrangements for Mugabe’s exit are complete. High-profile opposition leaders such as Morgan Tsvangiari, who shared power with Mugabe between 2009 and 2013 before losing disputed elections, are expected to play a role in a new government, but they have said they have not been contacted by those taking part in the Mugabe negotiations.
The first lady
Grace Mugabe has been out of the picture, literally, since the military stepped in. Once ever-present at her husband’s side at public events, she has not been seen in days. The quick-tempered first lady, deeply unpopular among Zimbabweans for her lavish spending and for multiple allegations against her for assault, did not accompany the president at Friday’s graduation ceremony. And she was not pictured in the photographs of the State House negotiations. Despite rumors that she has fled the country, she is thought to remain under house arrest.