Mu­gabe at­tends uni­ver­sity grad­u­a­tion

Rally is called to seek pres­i­dent’s re­moval; army says talks con­tinue

The Washington Post - - THE WORLD - BY KEVIN SI­EFF kevin.si­eff@wash­post.com

harare, zimbabwe — Just days af­ter Zimbabwe’s mil­i­tary de­tained Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe, rais­ing hopes that the widely ma­ligned leader was about to be de­posed, he turned up at a uni­ver­sity grad­u­a­tion, with no in­di­ca­tion that his 37-year reign was about to end.

It was a puz­zling ap­pear­ance dur­ing what could be a land­mark mo­ment in south­ern African pol­i­tics. 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 morn­ing, many Zim­bab­weans ex­pected that Mu­gabe could be gone within hours. It is now clear that 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.

But ne­go­ti­a­tions with Mu­gabe were still con­tin­u­ing, the mil­i­tary added, re­fer­ring obliquely to “the way for­ward” with­out ex­plain­ing whether com­man­ders were seek­ing Mu­gabe’s ouster or a dif­fer­ent kind of set­tle­ment.

Through­out the day Fri­day, all 10 pro­vin­cial com­mit­tees rep­re­sent­ing gov­ern­ing party ZANU-PF voted for Mu­gabe to step down. The state broad­caster, now un­der mil­i­tary con­trol, re­ported that party mem­bers be­lieved Mu­gabe had “lost con­trol of the party and gov­ern­ment business due to in­ca­pac­i­ta­tion stem­ming from his ad­vanced age.” Many of those who voted had al­ready been at odds with Mu­gabe.

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 in down­town Harare on Satur­day 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 has 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.

In a meet­ing Thurs­day, the 15na­tion bloc sug­gested that the mil­i­tary’s ac­tions con­sti­tuted the “un­con­sti­tu­tional re­moval” of Mu­gabe. But on Fri­day, some of Zimbabwe’s neigh­bors spoke out against him.

“I don’t think any­one should be pres­i­dent for that amount of time. We are pres­i­dents, we are not monar­chs. It’s just com­mon sense,” Botswana’s pres­i­dent, Ian Khama, told Reuters.

A top official in the U.S. State Depart­ment ap­peared to agree that it was time for a new gov­ern­ment in Zimbabwe.

“It’s a tran­si­tion to a new era for Zimbabwe, that’s re­ally what we’re hop­ing for,” Don­ald Ya­mamoto, the as­sis­tant sec­re­tary of state for African af­fairs, told Reuters.

De­spite Mu­gabe’s un­pop­u­lar­ity, the mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tion drew con­cern from both peo­ple in Zimbabwe and out­side, with some say­ing they did not want to en­dorse an un­demo­cratic ac­tion.

“He’s still the pres­i­dent of the coun­try and there­fore my pres­i­dent,” said Didy­mus Mu­tasa, Zimbabwe’s for­mer se­cu­rity chief and pres­i­den­tial af­fairs min­is­ter who was fired by Mu­gabe in 2014. “Do­ing any­thing else would be un­con­sti­tu­tional.”

At the cer­e­mony of Zimbabwe Open Uni­ver­sity, a tired-look­ing Mu­gabe sang the na­tional an­them and handed caps to the top grad­u­ates.

Wanda Ma­bande, 34, who stud­ied bank­ing and fi­nance, was one of the stu­dents who re­ceived a cap from the pres­i­dent.

He said he was hon­ored, if a lit­tle sur­prised, to see the pres­i­dent at the cer­e­mony. Three days ear­lier, he was watch­ing gen­er­als ad­dress the na­tion on state television, in what ap­peared to be a coup. They had al­ready put the pres­i­dent un­der house ar­rest.

“I thought I was dream­ing,” Ma­bande re­called. “Is this ac­tu­ally hap­pen­ing in Zimbabwe?”

Mu­gabe came to power in 1980, three years be­fore Ma­bande was born. The stu­dent had seen Zimbabwe’s lead­ers fail to ad­dress mount­ing eco­nomic prob­lems. But with the prospect of a mil­i­tary takeover, he was not sure what was best for the coun­try.

“Some­times the devil you know is bet­ter than the devil you don’t,” he said.

The mil­i­tary com­man­ders re­spon­si­ble for de­tain­ing Mu­gabe ap­pear to sup­port for­mer vice pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa as Mu­gabe’s suc­ces­sor. But many Zim­bab­weans and West­ern of­fi­cials have raised con­cerns about Mnan­gagwa. In 2000, a U.S. diplo­mat in Zimbabwe sent the State Depart­ment a ca­ble (later re­leased by Wik­iLeaks) say­ing that Mnan­gagwa was “widely feared and de­spised through­out the coun­try” and “could be an even more re­pres­sive leader” than Mu­gabe.

“If he doesn’t leave, we will set­tle the scores to­mor­row.” Chris Mutsvangwa, head of Zimbabwe Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion War Veter­ans

BEN CURTIS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pres­i­dent Robert Mu­gabe, cen­ter, ar­rives to help pre­side over a grad­u­a­tion cer­e­mony Fri­day at Zimbabwe Open Uni­ver­sity on the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal, Harare. It was Mu­gabe’s first public ap­pear­ance since the mil­i­tary put him un­der house ar­rest this week.

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