As Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party proceeds with impeachment proceedings against President Robert Mugabe, the head of the country's armed forces has said talks are being planned between the 93-year-old leader and the former vice president he sacked, Emmerson Mnangagwa.
The armed forces and Mugabe have reached an agreement regarding a "roadmap on the prevailing situation in the country," General Constantino Chiwenga told reporters. Mnangagwa will soon return to Zimbabwe to meet with the veteran leader, who fired his immediate subordinate in a move many saw as meant to clear a path for his wife, Grace Mugabe.
Chiwenga, who heads the armed forces and was the principal leader of the takeover codenamed "Operation Restore Legacy", told reporters he was encouraged by contact between the two men and Mnangagwa would be back in the country soon.
"Thereafter, the nation will be advised on the outcome of talks between the two," he said, reading from a statement.
ZANU-PF is now initiating the process of formally removing Mugabe, putting an end to his four decades in power.
The party has formally accused Mugabe of flouting the norms of collective leadership and being a "source of instability," disregarding the rule of law and presiding over an "unprecedented economic tailspin" in the last 15 years.
It also alleged that he showed little regard for his constitutional mandate, openly favoring nepotism in favor of his wife Grace, 52, whose aspirations to power ultimately resulted in the deployment of army tanks to the streets of the capital last week in a move the army described as necessary to remove “criminals” close to the president. Analysts widely regarded the military commanders' move as a palace coup.
ZANU-PF's move to impeach comes on the heels of a tense weekend that many expected to end with Mugabe formally abdicating power in a national address Sunday night.
Instead, the veteran leader – flanked by the same generals who are now in control – gave a speech on national unity and farming reform, avoiding mention of his own fate while warning Zimbabweans about the dangers of “bitterness or revengefulness which would not makes us any better.”
Citing Zimbabwe’s arduous national liberation struggles during the 1960s and '70s, Mugabe added that he believed the military operation launched last week was driven by “a deep patriotic concern for the stability of the nation” and “did not amount to a threat to our well-cherished constitutional order”.
Two senior government sources told Reuters Mugabe had agreed on Sunday to step aside and CNN said on Monday his resignation letter had been drawn up, with terms that included immunity for him and Grace.
Two other political sources said that Mugabe had indeed agreed to resign but ZANU-PF did not want him to quit in front of the military, an act that would have made its intervention last week look more like a coup.
“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 party source told The Guardian.
ZANU-PF militants are saying that when Mugabe resigns, Mnangagwa will be sworn in as interim president.
Zimbabwe's army top brass enjoy stable and good relations with Mnangagwa, who formerly headed the country's intelligence agencies and is a veteran Zanu-PF official that helped lead the suppression of opposition elements during the 2000 and 2008 elections.
"They've done the unexpected. The tradition is that the military takes over, they kill people, they intimidate citizens and install themselves in that manner,” opposition activist Promise Mkwananzi told CBC. “But here they came just short of a coup and then quickly sanitized the whole process in one of the most unimaginable ways."
"I think that the army has gained incredible authority of who should govern this country,” he added. “As it stands now, the military fronted by Emmerson Mnangagwa and General Constantino Chiwenga are on top of their game.”