Zimbabwe’s Mugabe Says Nothing of Resigning, Defying Expectations

Zimbabwe’s Mugabe Says Nothing of Resigning, Defying Expectations
Two officials had said that the country’s leader had agreed to resign during talks with the military
Leader of Zimbabwe’s war veterans association Christopher Mutsvangwa, center, reacts during a ZANU-PF Central Committee meeting on Sunday.
Leader of Zimbabwe’s war veterans association Christopher Mutsvangwa, center, reacts during a ZANU-PF Central Committee meeting on Sunday.

 

HARARE, Zimbabwe—Zimbabwe was thrown into confusion Sunday after President Robert Mugabe read a speech on live television in which he was widely expected to announce his resignation, but didn’t actually do so.

Flanked by the generals who took control of his government in a military operation five days ago, the 93-year-old leader haltingly read out a nearly 20-minute speech, at times tripping over words.

Mr. Mugabe said that the operation—which included tanks rolling into the center of Harare and the president and his family being put under house arrest—posed “no threat to the constitutional order, nor challenge to the head of state and government.”

When he came to the end of the speech, Mr. Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, said he would preside over the ruling ZANU-PF’s party congress in mid-December, but didn’t say anything about his future beyond that.

Earlier Sunday night, two officials said Mr. Mugabe had agreed to resign during talks with the military. That followed a decision my ZANU-PF to remove Mr. Mugabe as its leader earlier Sunday and give him a Monday deadline to resign as president.

There was also confusion about the words pronounced by Mr. Mugabe after he had ended his speech. Some watching on television thought he said, “Sorry…it’s a long speech,” while others thought they heard him say “It’s a wrong speech.”

Right after, the generals briefly clapped and an officer came to help Mr. Mugabe get out of his chair.

While Mr. Mugabe was meeting with the generals at State House in Harare before his speech, presidential guards were redeployed to the residence of his ousted Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Sunday afternoon, officials said. The reinstatement of his formal protection unit is a sign that the 75-year-old Mr. Mnangagwa has returned to Zimbabwe and is back in a government role.

Mr. Mnangagwa fled Zimbabwe after being fired by Mr. Mugabe on Nov. 6, saying he feared for his life. He hasn’t appeared in public since.

A former schoolteacher, Mr. Mugabe spent a decade in jail before toppling white rule and becoming Zimbabwe’s first prime minister in 1980. Initially celebrated as a freedom fighter and educated reformer, he went on to oversee a series of punishing economic crises and escalating political repression in the Southern African country.

In Mr. Mugabe’s place as party chief, ZANU-PF’s Central Committee on Sunday appointed Mr. Mnangagwa, whose ouster just under two weeks ago prompted Tuesday’s military takeover of Zimbabwe’s government. The party also said Mr. Mnangagwa would be its candidate for the 2018 presidential election.

After the ZANU-PF leadership announcement, members gathered at the party’s headquarters started singing and dancing, continuing the celebrations that swept across Zimbabwe a day earlier. They chanted a song that in recent months has become associated with their new party leader, who is nicknamed “the Crocodile” for his deft—and at times ruthless—political maneuvering.

ZANU-PF’s Central Committee, which comprises senior party members from across the country, said that unless Mr. Mugabe agreed to resign by noon local time Monday, parliament—where it holds an overwhelming majority—would move to impeach him. The committee also ejected Mr. Mugabe’s wife, Grace, accusing her of hate speech and assuming powers that didn’t belong to her. Mrs. Mugabe, who has been under house arrest since the military takeover, hasn’t responded.

Zimbabweans Rally in Support of Military TakeoverDemonstrators demand a formal end to Robert Mugabe’s 37-year rule; he agreed to resign later in the day
People take to the streets as part of the protests against Mr. Mugabe.A newspaper stand in downtown Harare, Zimbabwe. The country’s ruling party said longtime President Robert Mugabe must resign as president by Monday or face impeachment proceedings.Delegates celebrate after Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was dismissed as party leader at an extraordinary meeting of the ruling ZANU-PF’s central committee in Harare.Leader of Zimbabwe’s war veterans association Christopher Mutsvangwa, center, reacts during a ZANU-PF Central Committee meeting on Sunday.Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, right, meets with Defence Forces Generals at the State House in Harare.A peace and prayer rally was held in downtown Harare on Sunday.Crowds rallied peacefully on Sunday seeking the resignation of President Robert Mugabe. Belal Khaled/NurPhoto/Zuma PressTorn billboards of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) in Harare.Zimbabweans express their support for soldiers on the streets as they head to a rally for the removal of President Robert Mugabe in Harare on Saturday, days after a military takeover.People take selfies with an armored personnel carrier during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Zimbabwe’s president, who is under house arrest.People carry a banner calling for Mr. Mugabe to step aside after 37 years of rule.People shout slogans and hold placards in the capital.A man takes a selfie with a soldier in a march along Harare’s streets.People react as they see a military helicopter flying overhead while they are stopped by soldiers as they try to make their way to the State House.

A newspaper stand in downtown Harare, Zimbabwe. The country’s ruling party said longtime President Robert Mugabe must resign as president by Monday or face impeachment proceedings.BEN CURTIS/ASSOCIATED PRESS
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Support for the first couple has melted away quickly. Just a week ago, ZANU-PF was getting ready to appoint Mrs. Mugabe, 52 years old, as one of the president’s two deputies.

Mr. Mugabe has been kept under house arrest at his lavish ”blue-roof” mansion, emerging only for talks with the generals now running his government and an appearance at a university graduation on Friday.

In a sign that not everyone expected the handover of power to go smoothly, South African President Jacob Zuma said he would meet Tuesday with other leaders of the Southern African Development Community in Angola to discuss the situation in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Mugabe’s removal as leader of the party he helped found came the day after tens of thousands of Zimbabweans took to the streets across the country. What had been organized as a show of support for the military turned into a wild celebration of what most Zimbabweans considered the end of Mr. Mugabe’s 37-year rule. Outside the ruling party’s headquarters, demonstrators defaced a giant billboard of Mr. Mugabe, tearing a hole where his face had been—a protest unthinkable just days earlier.

The military has said its operation last week wasn’t a coup, but a necessary restoration of order amid an economic and social breakdown. A government brought into power by a military putsch would have no international legitimacy and be prevented from negotiating with the international financial and political institutions whose support will likely be crucial in the weeks and months to come.

In recent months, many Zimbabweans have been sleeping in front of banks in the hope of withdrawing a few dollars amid a severe cash crunch.

Analysts at consultancy BMI say effective monthly price increases have reached hyperinflation levels again, with prices of some goods increasing as much as eightfold in just a few months.

Write to Gabriele Steinhauser at gabriele.steinhauser@wsj.com

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