President Robert Mugabe is insisting he remains Zimbabwe’s only legitimate ruler, an intelligence source said on November 16, and is resisting mediation by a Catholic priest to allow the 93-year-old former guerrilla a graceful exit after a military coup.
The priest, Fidelis Mukonori, is acting as a middleman between Mr. Mugabe and the generals, who seized power on November 15 in a targeted operation against “criminals” in the President’sentourage, a senior political source told Reuters.
The source could not provide details of the talks, which appear to be aimed at a smooth and bloodless transition after the departure of Mr. Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980.
Mr. Mugabe, still seen by many Africans as a liberation hero, is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power destroyed one of Africa’s most promising states.
Zimbabwean intelligence reports seen by Reuters suggest that former security chief Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was ousted as Vice-President earlier in November, has been mapping out a post-Mugabe vision with the military and opposition for more than a year.
Fuelling speculation that that plan might be rolling into action, Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who has been receiving cancer treatment in Britain and South Africa, returned to Harare late on November 15, his spokesman said.
South Africa said Mr. Mugabe had told President Jacob Zuma by telephone on November 15 that he was confined to his home but was otherwise fine and the military said it was keeping him and his family, including wife Grace, safe.
Despite the lingering admiration for Mr. Mugabe, there is little public affection for 52-year-old Ms. Grace, a former government typist who started having an affair with Mr. Mugabe in the early 1990s as his first wife, Sally, was dying of cancer.
Dubbed “DisGrace” or “Gucci Grace” on account of her reputed love of shopping, she enjoyed a meteoric rise through the ranks of Mr. Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF in the last two years, culminating in Mr. Mnangagwa’s removal a week ago — a move seen as clearing the way for her to succeed her husband.
In contrast to the high political drama unfolding behind closed doors, the streets of the capital remained calm, with people going about their daily business, albeit under the watch of soldiers on armoured vehicles at strategic locations.
Whatever the final outcome, the events could signal a once-in-a-generation change for the former British colony, a regional breadbasket reduced to destitution by economic policies Mr. Mugabe’s critics have long blamed on him.