Protesters take to Zimbabwe streets to demand Robert Mugabe’s ouster
Euphoric crowds chanted “He must go!” as they waved placards demanding Mugabe’s resignation. People sat on top of cars and buses holding Zimbabwean flags, BBC News correspondent Andrew Harding reports.
“This is a revolution,” said one man joining the protests. “It has been a long time coming.”
“We just want change,” a woman told Harding. Others spoke of the country’s deep economic problems and its soaring unemployment. They hope that a change of leadership might improve people’s lives.
In the first public outpouring since the militaryearlier in the week, the bulk of Harare’s population of about 1.6 million appeared to be in the streets. The army held back thousands who gathered near the State House, home to official functions, while others headed toward Mugabe’s lavish mansion.
Some marchers had posters with an image of the military commander who swept in to take control, with the slogan: “Go, go, our general!!!” Marchers handed flags to soldiers, who accepted and waved.
“It’s like Christmas,” said one marcher, Fred Mubay, who said Zimbabweans have been suffering for a long time.
Another resident, Trust Chuma, sat quietly on a bench and watched. “This is the biggest day in the history of Zimbabwe,” he said.
The 93-year-old Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, is said to be asking for more time amid negotiations with regional leaders that seek his exit with a veneer of dignity.
But he is virtually powerless and deserted by most of his allies, with others arrested, and the ruling party has turned on him, asking for a Central Committee meeting this weekend to recall both him and his wife. Impeachment is also a possibility when Parliament resumes Tuesday.
The dancing crowds in Harare made it clear the country is impatient to move on without Mugabe, who took power 37 years ago amid an air of optimism but has been accused of squandering the once-prosperous country’s potential.
“It’s like independence day, multiple,” a political analyst said on state-run television.
Even as concerns remained about who next would be in charge and what freedoms might be available if the military lingers in power — or if Mugabe’s recently fired deputy leads a new government — people reveled in the rare chance to speak out.
Zimbabwean newspaper publisher Trevor Ncube tweeted: “Dear world, we are fully aware of the possible risks and pitfalls beyond this tipping point… After 37 years of repression, allow us to soak in this moment. Sincerely, #Zimbabwe.”
The demonstrators, in the event approved by the military, hoped the big turnout would speed up the official end of Mugabe’s rule, which is widely blamed for the collapse of an economy that was once one of Africa’s wealthiest. In a reminder of past crippling hyperinflation, the state-run Zimbabwe Herald published a photo of a man holding a 200 million-dollar bill.
Veterans of the long liberation war against white minority rule, once close allies of Mugabe, took part in the demonstration, along with opposition activists who long have faced police crackdowns by the Mugabe government.
Zimbabwe’s state-run media showed previously unthinkable images of the celebrations. The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation called the country “free and liberated” and showed footage of one person carrying a sign saying “The people of Zimbabwe want Mugabe to go.”