Robert Mugabe defies the generals to cling on to power in Zimbabwe

Peta Thornycroft
With the camera still rolling, Robert Mugabe apologised for missing several pages from his speech - AP

Robert Mugabe stunned the world on Sunday night by refusing to step aside as president of Zimbabwe, leaving him clinging to power despite being dismissed as leader of his own party.

Instead, he used a televised address to acknowledge deep criticism of his leadership but promised to preside over next month’s congress of the ruling Zanu-PF party.

The extraordinary spectacle of a 93-year-old ruler stumbling over his words while flanked by army generals suggests that a man whose reputation was forged as one of Africa’s liberation leaders is running out of time.

Senior party figures say they will go ahead with impeachment proceedings, sparked by anger at the growing power amassed by Grace Mugabe.

During his speech, Mr Mugabe praised the country for the peaceful way it was dealing with the current crisis and said it was understandable that failures of the past had triggered anger.

A screen grab of Mr Mugabe's speech shown on the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation Credit: AFP

“We cannot be divided by bitterness or vengefulness, which would not make us any better party members, or any better Zimbabweans,” he said.

He invoked the memory of the country’s liberation struggle in an effort to unite the warring factions.

“I am confident that from tonight our whole nation at all levels gets refocused as we put shoulder to the wheel amidst the promising agricultural season of rain upon us. Let us all move forward reminding ourselves of our wartime mantra [you and I have work to do]. I thank you and good night.”

With the camera still rolling, he apologised for missing several pages from his speech and said he hoped it could be corrected.

The 93-year-old leader has been under house arrest since the army moved in on Tuesday, angered by his decision to dismiss Emmerson Mnangagwa, his long-term deputy, and position Mrs Mugabe, the first lady, to succeed him.

He appeared on TV hours after his own Zanu-PF party dismissed him as leader and said it would launch impeachment proceedings if he did not step down as president by noon today.

Zimbabweans who took to the streets on Saturday to demand his resignation gathered around televisions in anticipation, but anger spread rapidly when the address ended without any sign that Mr Mugabe was standing down.

The leader of Zimbabwe’s war veterans immediately said opponents would press on with impeachment.

Chris Mutsvangwa, who has been leading a campaign to oust Mr Mugabe, told Reuters that people would take to the streets of Harare on Wednesday.

Douglas Mwonzora, secretary general of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, said the army generals had let down the country.

“What this means is that Zanu-PF spoke too soon. They expected him to resign,” he said.

However, a  Zanu - PF insider who supports Mr Mugabe  suggested it was part of a choreographed exit strategy

“This means he stays in office until the congress where he can then retire with dignity rather then now in front of the generals standing over him,"  he said.

Protesters demanding the resignation of Robert Mugabwe in Harare Credit: AFP

Earlier, senior  party  figures gathered to deliver what they thought would be the fatal blow.

As they removed him as party head, members of Zanu-PF’s central committee  reminded delegates  at a meeting in Harare of Mr Mugabe’s achievement in delivering independence and said  they were meeting with a “heavy heart”.

Obert Mpofu instead blamed Grace Mugabe and her associates who “have taken advantage of his frail condition”.

About 200 members of the Zanu-PF central committee met at party headquarters in Harare. Delegates cheered and sang as Mr Mugabe was removed from his post and other figures loyal to the first lady, including a quarter of the cabinet, were expelled.

Patrick Chinamasa, the reformist finance minister sacked last month, said he would ensure Mrs Mugabe was arrested if necessary.

Mr Mugabe met Gen Constantino Chiwenga (R) on Thuesday Credit: AFP/ZBC

As the central committee celebrated each expulsion, Mr Mugabe met army generals to negotiate the terms of his exit a few miles away at State House. Images from the state-run Herald newspaper showed the two sides shaking hands.

Talks centred on security for Mr Mugabe’s family, access to his assets and possible protection from prosecution for him and his wife.

Harare was subdued on Sunday and streets were empty after the largest demonstration 24 hours before.

Impeachment requires two thirds of the members of the House of Assembly to impeach him and that process is expected to begin on Tuesday. It is not clear whether Mr Mugabe’s opponents will be able to bridge the political differences between Zanu-PF and the MDC to achieve the majority needed.

David Coltart, a former education minister, said the speech was rambling and incomprehensible at times but still “classic Mugabe”. “He is too proud a man to be humiliated in this way, he has always lived for today without regard for tomorrow. And he was simply not prepared today to take that humiliation,” he said.

Mr Mugabe has led Zimbabwe since its independence from Britain in 1980.     

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