Zimbabwe Unrest: Thousands march in Zimbabwe to demand Mugabe step down after 37 years in power

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Thousands of Zimbabweans marched to the statehouse Saturday, demanding that President Robert Mugabe step down after 37 years as head of state.

The rally had the air of collective catharsis. It was the first time in decades that Zimbabweans had been able to protest Mugabe without fear of arrest, coming days after the 93-year-old leader was detained by the military.

Although the future of Zimbabwe’s government remains in question, with Mugabe still involved in negotiations with the military and South African intermediaries, Saturday’s demonstration sent a clear signal that opposition to Mugabe is massive and diverse.

It appeared to be the largest public demonstration in Zimbabwe since the country declared independence from white minority rule in 1980, with the crowd ballooning throughout the day.

The gathering included both black and white Zimbabweans, carrying signs and flags and honking car horns.

People protested against Mugabe in Harare on Nov. 18, 2017. (Kim Ludbrook/EPA-Efe/Rex/Shutterstock)

 

“It’s like our second independence day,” Martin Matanisa said. “For a while it’s just been oppression. This is the first time we’ve been able to stand here and protest.”

Members of Zimbabwe’s white minority joined the protests, many of them having lost their farms in violent government-led seizures. The farms were frequently redistributed to Mugabe loyalists.

Elaine Rich and her family were given two hours to flee their farm in 2004.

“I’ve been waiting 37 years for this,” she said, carrying a Zimbabwean flag.

Demonstrators tore down the sign from Robert Mugabe Road and stomped on it. At Zimbabwe Grounds, where Mugabe gave his first independence day speech in 1980, thousands of his opponents gathered.

“I’m glad with this show of unity to force Mugabe out,” said Joyce Mujuru, whom Mugabe fired as vice president in 2014.

“We have to march to statehouse to remove the tyrant,” said Oppah Muchinguri, the current minister of water who has backed the military takeover.

President Mugabe presides over a graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare on Nov. 17, 2017.
The even marked Mugabe’s first public appearance since the military put him under house arrest earlier this week. (Ben Curtis/AP)

Across the city, soldiers in armed personnel carriers observed the demonstrations, not intervening. They were greeted and praised. Some posed for selfies.

“Zimbabwe’s army is the voice of the people,” one popular sign read.

Still, some Zimbabweans expressed concern that the country was offering legitimacy to military and civilian leaders with a questionable track record.

“We cannot afford to give another set of leaders a blank check or license to dictate,” said Ibbo Mandaza, a Zimbabwean academic.

There was still no sign of Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice president whose dismissal earlier this month set off the process that culminated in Mugabe’s house arrest.

Zimbabwe’s military on Tuesday detained Mugabe, raising hopes that the widely maligned leader was about to be deposed. Then on Friday he turned up at a university graduation, with no indication that his reign was about to end.

Mugabe’s exit would mark the end of a tumultuous period spanning Zimbabwe’s independence after years of white minority rule, the end of apartheid in South Africa — and then this country’s economic and political collapse.

When generals seized control of the state broadcaster early Wednesday, many Zimbabweans expected Mugabe could be gone within hours. It now seems the process could take much longer, with moments of near normalcy, such as the graduation ceremony, and mounting calls for the president’s resignation.

On Friday, the military said in a statement that “significant progress” had been made in its efforts to apprehend members of Mugabe’s government who are suspected of vast corruption and other abuses. Mugabe also had stirred widespread ire with his apparent attempts to make his wife his successor and build a dynasty.

There was still no sign of Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice president whose dismissal earlier this month set off the process that culminated in Mugabe’s house arrest.

Zimbabwe’s military on Tuesday detained Mugabe, raising hopes that the widely maligned leader was about to be deposed. Then on Friday he turned up at a university graduation, with no indication that his reign was about to end.

Mugabe’s exit would mark the end of a tumultuous period spanning Zimbabwe’s independence after years of white minority rule, the end of apartheid in South Africa — and then this country’s economic and political collapse.

When generals seized control of the state broadcaster early Wednesday, many Zimbabweans expected Mugabe could be gone within hours. It now seems the process could take much longer, with moments of near normalcy, such as the graduation ceremony, and mounting calls for the president’s resignation.

On Friday, the military said in a statement that “significant progress” had been made in its efforts to apprehend members of Mugabe’s government who are suspected of vast corruption and other abuses. Mugabe also had stirred widespread ire with his apparent attempts to make his wife his successor and build a dynasty.

Meanwhile, the country’s fragmented opposition seemed to finally unite around calls for Mugabe’s resignation. The Zimbab­we National Liberation War Veterans Association, which had opposed the president and his wife for years, said it was planning a large demonstration Saturday in downtown Harare to demand Mugabe’s departure.

“If he doesn’t leave, we will settle the scores tomorrow,” said Chris Mutsvangwa, the group’s leader. The military said it supported the event.

Other members of Zimbabwe’s civil society and political opposition said they would join Saturday’s rally, which could be the most significant display of antipathy toward Mugabe in recent years, even as it brings together unlikely bedfellows.

“We’re going to have to work together with the military to build an all-inclusive transitional government,” said Evan Mawarire, a pastor and popular anti-government activist, who encouraged his followers to attend the rally.

But despite growing public opposition to Mugabe’s rule, his departure is still likely to hinge on negotiations with the military, which has so far claimed that it will not forcibly remove the president and allowed him to travel to his office and to the graduation ceremony. This weekend, representatives of a bloc of southern African nations are discussing the situation in Zimbabwe; the gathering could also help to shape Mugabe’s future.

washingtonpost

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