President Robert Mugabe is insisting he
remains Zimbabwe’s only legitimate ruler, an intelligence source said on
Thursday, and is resisting mediation by a Catholic priest to allow the
93-year-old former guerrilla a graceful exit after a military coup.
The priest, Fidelis Mukonori, is acting
as a middle-man between Mugabe and the generals, who seized power on
Wednesday in a targeted operation against “criminals” in his entourage, a
senior political source told Reuters.
The source could not provide details of
the talks, which appear to be aimed at a smooth and bloodless transition
after the departure of Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence
Mugabe, still seen by many Africans as a
liberation hero, is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous
handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to
maintain power destroyed one of Africa’s most promising states.
Zimbabwean intelligence reports seen by
Reuters suggest that former security chief Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was
ousted as vice-president this month, has been mapping out a post-Mugabe
vision with the military and opposition for more than a year.
Fuelling speculation that that plan
might be rolling into action, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who
has been receiving cancer treatment in Britain and South Africa,
returned to Harare late on Wednesday, his spokesman said.
South Africa said Mugabe had told
President Jacob Zuma by telephone on Wednesday that he was confined to
his home but was otherwise fine and the military said it was keeping him
and his family, including wife Grace, safe.
Despite the lingering admiration for
Mugabe, there is little public affection for 52-year-old Grace, a former
government typist who started having an affair with Mugabe in the early
1990s as his first wife, Sally, was dying of kidney disease.
Dubbed “DisGrace” or “Gucci Grace” on
account of her reputed love of shopping, she enjoyed a meteoric rise
through the ranks of Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF in the last two years,
culminating in Mnangagwa’s removal a week ago – a move seen as clearing
the way for her to succeed her husband.
high political drama unfolding behind
closed doors, the streets of the capital remained calm, with people
going about their daily business, albeit under the watch of soldiers on
armoured vehicles at strategic locations.
Whatever the final outcome, the events
could signal a once-in-a-generation change for the former British
colony, a regional breadbasket reduced to destitution by economic
policies Mugabe’s critics have long blamed on him.