Zimbabwean ruling party ZANU-PF has sacked leader Robert Mugabe and replaced him with former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa as efforts continue to force the veteran president from power.
Mugabe’s ousting from the former liberation movement, which he joined to oppose white rule in the 1960s and has since dominated, is the latest evidence of his waning power following Tuesday’s military takeover. The unprecedented decision by the party’s central committee cements the power of Mnangagwa, a veteran party operative nicknamed ‘The Crocodile’, who was fired by Mugabe in a party purge just a fortnight ago.
The President is refusing to step down despite the abandonment of the political and military elites that long sustained and benefited from his autocratic rule. Earlier in the week, nine out of ten regional party heads called for Mugabe to leave in a rebellion against the once untouchable strongman. The influential ‘war veterans’ association, which has long acted as a bedrock of support for the president, also insisted that he should leave. Like the military, their anger was piqued by Mugabe’s decision to fire vice-president Mnangagwa in a bid to smooth the succession for Grace Mugabe, his unpopular wife.
Mugabe is expected to again meet with army chief Constantino Chiwenga on Sunday and a mediating Catholic priest as the military seeks to persuade the 93-year old to leave peacefully. While the military have lingered over the fate of their former leader since taking control – he was allowed to attend a graduation ceremony after the takeover – they are unlikely to accept further delay after tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets of Harare to demand his immediate exit. If the president persists in his refusal to step down, ZANU-PF could pursue parliamentary impeachment.
Despite solidarity from the African Union, which has declared itself opposed to military interventions in member states, Mugabe has few regional allies to depend upon. On Friday, Ian Khama, president of neighbouring Botswana and a long term critic, called on the president to leave. South Africa’s Jacob Zuma has called for a negotiated end to the crisis, but analysts have suggested tacit support for the coup.
Mugabe’s exit from ZANU-PF leaves the future of his once loyal party unclear. Since assuming the leadership of ZANU in 1975 at the height of the guerrilla war against white rule, Mugabe’s sole leadership of the party has been virtually unquestioned. As revolution gave way to governance, the party propagated a personality cult around Mugabe and became little more than a vehicle for his personal power and patronage. As the country lurched into successive economic and political crises, the continuation of Mugabe’s charismatic rule and access to the levers of corruption became increasingly central to the once revolutionary party’s existence.