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‘Mugabe Must Go’: Thousands in Zimbabwe Rally Against Leader

For some Africans, Mr. Mugabe remains a nationalist hero, a symbol of the struggle to throw off the legacy colonial rule. But he was also reviled as a dictator known to resort to violence to retain power and to run a once-robust economy into the ground.

The military placed Mr. Mugabe under house arrest on Wednesday, effectively ending his long rule, but it allowed him to appear in public on Friday for a university graduation ceremony. The military sought to cast the action as an attempt to rid the president of the “criminals” in his government who have inflicted economic damage on the country.

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Some people took selfies with members of the military on Saturday. Military leaders have insisted that their takeover was not a coup, but Mr. Mugabe was placed under house arrest. Credit Jekesai Njikizana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The president’s wife, Grace Mugabe, has not been seen in public since Wednesday. Her recent aspirations to succeed her husband — and her and their sons’ lavish lifestyles — appear to have been a trigger for his downfall.

On Friday evening, a majority of the leaders of Mr. Mugabe’s governing ZANU-PF party, which he had controlled with an iron grip since independence in 1980, recommended his expulsion, according to ZBC, the state broadcaster.

“Many of us had watched with pain as the party and government were being reduced to the personal property of a few infiltrators with traitorous histories and questionable commitment to the people of Zimbabwe,” the party leaders said in a resolution. “Clearly, the country was going down the wrong path.”

Saturday morning, tens of thousands of Zimbabweans — some chanting, “Enough is enough!” and carrying signs emblazoned with “Mugabe must go” — marched alongside soldiers mounted on tank with machine guns.

“Soldiers are being feted as heroes on the streets of Harare,” Mr. Malaba, the editor, said on Twitter. “Euphoric scenes. People are standing next to army tanks and taking selfies. I’ve seen chaps excitedly polishing soldiers’ boots in a gesture of gratitude. This is unprecedented. Historic!”

But a nephew of Mr. Mugabe’s, Patrick Zhuwao, told Reuters on Saturday that the president and his wife were “ready to die for what is correct” and had no intention of stepping down in order to legitimize the military coup. Speaking from South Africa, Mr. Zhuwao was quoted as saying that Mr. Mugabe had hardly slept since the military seized power, but that his health was otherwise “good.”

For many Zimbabweans, the atmosphere was electric and filled with hope. Marchers swarmed to the grounds, and drivers honked their horns. At one point, military aircraft streaked above the crowds. Later, demonstrators marched toward Mr. Mugabe’s residence in the exclusive Borrowdale suburb of Harare, where he was believed to be held in military custody.

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Veterans of the independence war, activists and ruling party leaders called publicly for Mr. Mugabe to be removed from office after 37 years. Credit Jekesai Njikizana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Benita Mudondo, 57, came to the rally from the Nyanga District, more than 180 miles to the east near the border with Mozambique. “Surely Zimbabwe, our country, is back — the one country we fought for,” she said. “We had given up, but had become worried about the future of our children and grandchildren.”

Her husband, Ernst Mudondo, 67, a war veteran, said, “Our joy only starts today, and we are so happy.”

Their daughter, Michelle Mudondo, 17, said: “We are here as youth to claim back our country, our pride. We want to see our country on a path back to recovery; I look forward to a stable government with a stable economy without shortages of cash.”

For many of Zimbabwe’s university graduates, Mr. Mugabe is the only leader they have ever known, and the march was a platform to express optimism as they looked forward to life without him in power.

“I am here because I want a job, and Mugabe couldn’t deliver,” said Simbarashe Sakuona, 23, who said he had a degree in marketing from Midlands State University. “We were witnessing a bedroom coup as Grace now called the shots. Grace can’t be a leader.”

The prospect that the end of Mr. Mugabe’s era could unleash a crisis on the African continent spurred the South African president, Jacob Zuma, to send diplomats to try to defuse the situation in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Zuma said on Saturday that his country was committed to supporting “the people of Zimbabwe,” according to Reuters. He added that he was cautiously optimistic that the situation could be resolved amicably.

Now, Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, the vice president of Zimbabwe until he was fired recently, is in line to become the country’s new leader. Observers say he shares some of Mr. Mugabe’s traits: He is power-hungry, corrupt and a master of repression. His nickname: the “crocodile.”

Source: NYT > World

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