LUSAKA (Reuters) – Zambian President Edgar Lungu has sent former president Kenneth Kaunda to Harare to try to convince President Robert Mugabe to step down in a “dignified exit” after the military seized power last week.
The ruling party removed Mugabe as ZANU-PF president and first secretary on Sunday and lawmakers from the ruling party were due to meet at the party headquarters on Monday to discuss impeaching the 93-year-old leader.
“Dr Kaunda used the presidential jet and has already arrived in Harare,” a senior government source told Reuters. Kaunda is also 93 years old.
Parliament does not sit on Mondays so any impeachment would have to wait until Tuesday, although a vote may not necessarily take place the same day.
“It would have looked extremely bad if he had resigned in front of those generals. It would have created a huge amount of mess,” one senior source within ZANU-PF said.
Another political source said the speech was meant to “sanitise” the military’s action.
There has been speculation that he read the wrong speech in his live television address on Sunday or skipped over passages about standing down.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai was dumb-struck.
“I am baffled. It’s not just me, it’s the whole nation. He’s playing a game,” he told Reuters. “He is trying to manipulate everyone. He has let the whole nation down.”
ZANU-PF had given him less than 24 hours to quit as head of state or face impeachment, an attempt to secure a peaceful end to his tenure after the de facto military coup.
ZANU-PF’s central committee had earlier named Emmerson Mnangagwa as its new leader. It was Mugabe’s sacking of Mnangagwa as his vice-president — paving the way for his wife Grace to succeed him — that triggered the army to seize control.
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Harare to celebrate Mugabe’s expected downfall and hail a new era for their country.
The huge crowds in Harare have given a quasi-democratic veneer to the army’s intervention, backing its assertion that it was merely effecting a constitutional transfer of power, rather than an old-style coup, which would risk a diplomatic backlash.
Armoured vehicles manned by soldiers were still stationed on some street corners in the capital on Monday.
The University of Zimbabwe postponed exams on Monday after students started chanting and singing songs against Mugabe.
Meanwhile, the man himself remained under house arrest in his lavish “Blue Roof” compound, watching the support from his party, security services and people evaporate.
ZANU-PF also said it wanted to change the constitution to reduce the power of the president, a possible sign of its desire to move towards a more pluralistic and inclusive political system.
However, Mnangagwa’s history as state security chief during the so-called Gukurahundi crackdown, when an estimated 20,000 people were killed by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade in Matabeleland in the early 1980s, suggested that quick, sweeping change was unlikely.
“The deep state that engineered this change of leadership will remain, thwarting any real democratic reform,” said Miles Tendi, a Zimbabwean academic at Oxford University.
Reporting by Chris Mfula; Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Ed Cropley