Factbox: Cyclone Idai’s death toll rises to 847, hundreds of thousands displaced

FILE PHOTO: Survivors of cyclone Idai arrive at Coppa business centre to receive aid in Chipinge, Zimbabwe, March 26, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo

BEIRA, Mozambique (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of people are in need of food, water and shelter after Cyclone Idai battered Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

As of Sunday, at least 847 people had been reported killed by the storm, the flooding it caused and heavy rains before it hit. Following is an outline of the disaster, according to government and United Nations officials.

MOZAMBIQUE

Cyclone Idai landed on the night of March 14 near the port city of Beira, bringing heavy winds and rains. Two major rivers, the Buzi and the Pungue, burst their banks, submerging entire villages and leaving bodies floating in the water.

People killed: 602

People injured: 1,641

Houses damaged or destroyed: 239,682

Crops damaged: 715,378 hectares

People affected: 1.85 million

Confirmed cholera cases: 2,424

Confirmed cholera deaths: 5

ZIMBABWE

On March 16 the storm hit eastern Zimbabwe, where it flattened homes and flooded communities in the Chimanimani and Chipinge districts.

People killed: 185, according to government. The U.N. migration agency puts the death toll at 259.

People injured: 200

People displaced: 16,000 households

People affected: 250,000

MALAWI

Before it arrived, the storm brought heavy rains and flooding to the lower Shire River districts of Chikwawa and Nsanje in Malawi’s south. The rains continued after the storm hit, compounding the misery of tens of thousands of people.

People killed: 60

People injured: 672

People displaced: 19,328 households

People affected: 868,895

(Reporting by Emma Rumney and Stephen Eisenhammer in Beira, Tom Miles in Geneva, MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare and Frank Phiri in Blantyre; Writing by Alexandra Zavis, Alexander Winning and Joe Bavier; Editing by Angus MacSwan and David Goodman)

Aid workers fight clock to rescue more African cyclone victims, death toll jumps

Stranded locals look on during floods after Cyclone Idai, in Buzi district, outside Beira, Mozambique, March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

By Emma Rumney

BEIRA, Mozambique (Reuters) – Rescue workers plucked more survivors from trees and roofs to safety on Thursday, a week after a cyclone ripped through southern Africa and triggered devastating floods that have killed hundreds of people and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Helicopters whirred above the turbid, reddish-brown flood waters searching for people to ferry back to the port city of Beira, the main headquarters for the huge rescue operation in Mozambique.

Members of the rescue team offload a body retrieved from areas flooded in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

Members of the rescue team offload a body retrieved from areas flooded in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, March 21, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

The death toll in that country was now 242, Land and Environment Minister Celso Correia said, adding that the number of dead was rising as rescue workers found bodies that had been hidden by now-receding floodwaters.

Correia told a news conference earlier on Wednesday that around 15,000 people, many of them very ill, still need to be rescued. “Our biggest fight is against the clock,” he said, adding that 3,000 people had been rescued so far.

In neighboring Zimbabwe, the death toll from Cyclone Idai jumped to 139. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), which is coordinating food drops, said 200,000 Zimbabweans would need urgent food aid for three months. In Malawi 56 people were confirmed dead.

“This is a human catastrophe of the highest order,” businessman Graham Taylor told Reuters, saying he had seen “hundreds of bodies that had been washed up by the floodwater” while trying to return home after visiting his son in Beira.

“What struck me first was the number of people on the rooftops and in trees. You could hear communities shouting for help – for hours, for days,” said Taylor, who also described meeting people on the badly damaged highways heading toward the devastated areas in search of family members.

“It was a humbling experience,” he said. “I saw no sign of government assistance.”

Even when people are safely out of the floods, the situation is dire. Some 30 percent of the 88 government centers set up by the government for displaced people still have no food, Environment Minister Correia said.

Private TV station STV put the number of people still trapped in affected areas of Mozambique at 350,000 and said as many as 60,000 were believed stuck on roofs, trees and other higher places. The numbers could not be independently confirmed.

People affected by Cyclone Idai walk in Beira, Mozambique March 20, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media on March 21, 2019. CARE International/Josh Estey via REUTERS

People affected by Cyclone Idai walk in Beira, Mozambique March 20, 2019 in this picture obtained from social media on March 21, 2019. CARE International/Josh Estey via REUTERS

‘PLEASE PRAY FOR US’

Idai lashed Beira with winds of up to 170 km per hour (105 miles per hour) a week ago, then moved inland to Zimbabwe and Malawi, flattening buildings and putting the lives of millions at risk.

The cyclone’s torrential rains caused the Buzi River and the Pungue River, whose mouths are in the Beira area, to flood their banks. The scale of the flooding is huge – the U.N. satellite agency says floodwaters covered 2,165 square km (835 square miles) on March 20.

With more rain forecast for Beira on Thursday, Christian worshippers sang hymns on an empty tract of land where a pulpit was all that remained of their Pentecostal church.

“Here in Beira, all the churches have collapsed from this cyclone… Oh my dear brothers, please pray for us,” said Pastor Luis Semente. “Only God can restore this.”

A priority for Thursday was pushing into flooded areas that had not yet been surveyed, said Connor Hartnady, leader of a South African rescue task force.

Rescuers also want to move people from a basketball stadium near the Buzi River – one of the worst affected areas – to a village on higher ground, where aid organizations are setting up a temporary camp with a capacity of up to 600, he said.

Days after the disaster struck, aid agencies were struggling to meet the needs of displaced people.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) said it was sending two emergency units to Beira that would provide drinking water for up to 15,000 people and sanitation facilities for 20,000 people, as well as shelter kits.

“More help is needed, and we are continuing to do all we can to bring in more resources and to reach more people,” said Jamie LeSueur, the IFRC’s operations head in Mozambique.

The WFP stepped up airdrops of high-energy biscuits and water purification tablets to isolated pockets of people stranded by the floodwaters.

The U.S. military stands ready to help the cyclone rescue effort, a representative of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) said, according to the minutes of a humanitarian meeting held on Wednesday. China, a major investor in Mozambique, also expressed its willingness to help, Portugal’s Lusa news agency reported.

The Christian charity Tearfund said the timing of the floods was disastrous, with harvesting due to start in coming weeks. Even before the floods, 5.3 million people had been experiencing food shortages, said its Zimbabwe director, Earnest Maswera.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi, who declared three days of national mourning starting on Wednesday, has said the eventual death toll from the cyclone and ensuing floods could rise to more than 1,000.

Mozambique’s tiny $13 billion economy is still recovering from a currency collapse and debt default.

The cyclone knocked out Mozambican electricity exports to South Africa, exacerbating power cuts that are straining businesses in Africa’s most industrialized economy.

(Additional reporting by Nqobile Dludla in Johannesburg, MacDonald Dzirutwe in Harare, Philimon Bulawayo in Chimanimani, Zimbabwe, Manuel Mucari in Maputo, Tom Miles in Geneva and Catarina Demony in Lisbon; Writing by Gareth Jones and Frances Kerry; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Frances Kerry and Peter Graff)

Zimbabwe to charge activist pastor with subverting the government

Zimbabwean activist pastor Evan Mawarire is escorted by detectives as he arrives at the Harare Magistrates courts in Harare, Zimbabwe, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwean activist pastor Evan Mawarire appeared in court on Thursday to be charged with subverting the government, punishable by up to 20 years in jail, after protests this week in which three people were killed and dozens injured.

Mawarire was arrested on Wednesday and initially charged by police with the lesser crime of inciting public violence after he posted on social media encouraging Zimbabweans to heed a strike call by the biggest labor union.

On entering the courthouse, he told reporters: “None of what I am accused of is what I have done at all. If we have true justice in this country, let’s see it at play. I am very upset.”

The Harare pastor rose to prominence as a critic of former strongman Robert Mugabe and led a national protest shutdown in 2016. He was tried on similar charges in 2017 but was acquitted by the High Court for lack of evidence.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government decreed a 150 percent hike in fuel prices last weekend, which triggered the three-day strike, during which protesters barricaded roads with rocks and burnt tires in the capital Harare. In the second city of Bulawayo, shops were looted.

Police rounded up 600 people, including Mawarire and an opposition legislator, in a crackdown on protesters. A doctors’ group said they had treated 68 people for gunshot wounds.

The Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, whose lawyers are representing Mawarire and more than 130 others, said police had decided to upgrade the charges against Mawarire.

FAMILIAR WAYS

Mnangagwa promised to repair the struggling economy after replacing long-time leader Mugabe in an election following a coup in November 2017, Zimbabwe has fallen back into familiar ways.

While some businesses reopened on Thursday after the strike, new data showed that inflation had soared to a 10-year high of 42 percent in December, even before the fuel price increase.

As dollar shortages batter the economy, rocketing inflation is destroying the value of citizens’ savings.

The Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) said its members had treated 172 people, some with dog bites, in private and public hospitals since Monday, when the protests started.

“There are cases of patients who had chest trauma and fractured limbs who were forcibly taken from the hospital to attend court despite the advice of doctors,” ZAHDR said in a statement.

Of the 68 people treated for gunshot wounds, 17 underwent emergency surgery.

On Thursday, there were still long queues at the few filling stations selling fuel, sometimes under the watchful eye of soldiers.

The few shops that were open were packed with people buying basics such as sugar, flour and bread.

Media platforms including Whatsapp, Facebook and Twitter remained blocked because of a government order, leading to accusations from opposition figures that it wanted to prevent images of heavy-handed police tactics being broadcast around the world.

(Editing by James Macharia and Kevin Liffey)

Zimbabwe’s military muscles into first post-Mugabe cabinet

Zimbabwe's military muscles into first post-Mugabe cabinet

By Emelia Sithole-Matarise

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa appointed senior military officials to top posts in his first cabinet on Friday in what was widely seen as a reward for the army’s role in the removal of his predecessor, Robert Mugabe.

Sworn in as president a week ago after 93-year-old Mugabe quit in the wake of a de facto military coup, Mnangagwa made Major-General Sibusiso Moyo foreign minister and handed Air Marshal Perrance Shiri the sensitive land portfolio.

The new president, who later on Friday spoke publicly about the need to draw on local expertise and skills to put the economy back on robust footing, also brought back Patrick Chinamasa as finance minister despite his chequered record in that post previously.

Most Zimbabweans remember Moyo as the khaki-clad general who went on state television in the early hours of Nov. 15 to announce the military takeover that ended Mugabe’s 37-year rule.

Shiri is feared – and loathed – by many Zimbabweans as the former commander of the North Korean-trained ‘5 Brigade’ that played a central role in the so-called Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland in 1983 in which an estimated 20,000 people were killed.

The land portfolio is a sensitive but economically crucial one since land reforms in the early 2000s led to violent seizure of thousands of white-owned farms and the collapse of the nation’s economy.

“For most observers, this (the new cabinet line-up) looks like a reward for the military – or more specifically like the military asserting its authority,” London-based political analyst Alex Magaisa wrote on Twitter.

Mnangagwa, a former state security chief known as ‘The Crocodile’, dropped allies of Mugabe’s wife, Grace, but brought back many Mugabe loyalists from the ruling ZANU-PF party, disappointing those who had been expecting a break with the past.

“Zimbabweans were expecting a sea change from the Mugabe era. After all, had there not been a revolution, or so they thought?” Magaisa said.

New information minister Chris Mutsvangwa, leader of the powerful liberation war veterans, was not immediately available for comment.

OLD WINE

Mnangagwa’s opponents from Grace Mugabe’s ousted G40 faction derided the line-up as old wine in a khaki bottle.

“Even #Nigeria didn’t have so many commanders in Cabinet in its coup days!” former information minister and G40 leader Jonathan Moyo, who remains in hiding, said on Twitter.

Chinamasa, a lawyer by training, had been finance minister since 2013 until he was shifted to the new ministry of cyber security in a reshuffle this year.

During his time in charge, though, the economy stagnated, with a lack of exports causing acute dollars shortages that crippled the financial system and led to long queues outside banks.

The issuance of billions of dollars of domestic debt to pay for a bloated civil service – a key component of the ZANU-PF patronage machine under Mugabe – also triggered a collapse in the value of Zimbabwe’s de facto currency and ignited inflation.

“I had expected a more broad-based cabinet,” said economist Anthony Hawkins, adding that Mnangagwa’s faith in Chinamasa suggested loyalty trumped ability. “Chinamasa’s appointment was to be expected, notwithstanding his appalling record.”

With elections due next year, Mnangagwa needs to deliver a quick economic bounce and has made clear he wants to curb wasteful expenditure, pointing out that his cabinet has 22 ministers compared to Mugabe’s 33.

One of his most pressing tasks will be to patch up relations with donors and the outside world and work out a deal to clear Zimbabwe’s $1.8 billion of arrears to the World Bank and African Development Bank.

Without that, the new administration will be unable to unlock any new external financing.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told Reuters this week London was thinking about extending a bridging loan to Harare to allow this to happen, although said it depended on “how the democratic process unfolds”.

Speaking publicly for the first time as president at a graduation ceremony at a university in Chinhoyi, 110 km (68 miles) south of Harare, Mnangagwa, however, appeared to be looking to local expertise to put the economy on a stronger footing.

“As we engage the world it is of great importance to have our own home-grown solutions to develop our economy and benchmark ourselves on the best in the global village,” he said.

(Reporting Emelia Sithole-Matarise; Additional reporting by Ed Cropley; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Mnangagwa vows to rebuild Zimbabawe and serve all citizens

Mnangagwa vows to rebuild Zimbabawe and serve all citizens

By Emelia Sithole-Matarise

HARARE (Reuters) – New President Emmerson Mnangagwa laid out a grand vision on Friday to revitalize Zimbabwe’s ravaged economy and vowed to rule on behalf of all the country’s citizens.

Sworn in days after the overthrow of Robert Mugabe, the 75-year-old former security chief promised to guarantee the rights of foreign investors and to re-engage with the West, and said elections would go ahead next year as scheduled.

In a 30-minute speech to tens of thousands of supporters in Harare’s national stadium, Mnangagwa extended an olive branch to opponents, apparently aiming to bridge the ethnic and political divides exploited by his predecessor during his 37 years in charge.

“I intend, nay, am required, to serve our country as the president of all citizens, regardless of color, creed, religion, tribe or political affiliation,” he said, in a speech that also hailed the voice of the people as the “voice of god”.

Behind the rhetoric, some Zimbabweans wonder whether a man who loyally served Mugabe for decades can bring change to a ruling establishment accused of systematic human rights abuses and disastrous economic policies.

He made clear that the land reforms that sparked the violent seizure of thousands of white-owned farms from 2000 would not be reversed, but promised that those who lost property would receive compensation.

To some political opponents, the speech was a welcome change from the habitual belligerence of Mugabe and appeared to be drawing on Mnangagwa’s knowledge and understanding of China as a model for running an economy.

CHINA MODEL?

“His model has been the Chinese,” said David Coltart, a former education minister and MP from the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

“He will drive to make Zimbabwe a more attractive investment location, and more efficient, but like China will not tolerate dissent. If you ‘behave’, you will be secure.”

Those skeptical about the new president’s commitment to change question Mnangagwa’s role in the so-called Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland in 1983, when an estimated 20,000 people were killed in a crackdown on Mugabe’s opponents by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade.

Mnangagwa was in charge of internal security at the time, but has denied any part in the atrocities.

Many Zimbabweans, especially the ethnic Ndebele who bore the brunt of the Gukurahundi slaughter, will see his appeal on Friday to “let bygones be bygones” as an attempt to gloss over his nation’s darkest chapter.

Some critics have alleged harsh treatment by soldiers of opponents of the military intervention last week – a de facto coup against Mugabe, 93, and his 52-year-old wife Grace.

Axed finance minister Ignatius Chombo was in hospital with injuries sustained from beatings during a week in military custody, his lawyer told Reuters. He was blindfolded throughout his time in detention, Lovemore Madhuku said.

“It was a very brutal and draconian way of dealing with opponents,” he added.

Asked to comment, police spokeswoman Charity Charamba said she had no information about Chombo.

THE “CROCODILE”

Since his return to Zimbabwe this month after fleeing a Mugabe-led purge, Mnangagwa has been preaching democracy, tolerance and respect for the rule of law.

Along with Mugabe, Grace – Mnangagwa’s sworn enemy – has been granted immunity from prosecution and had her safety guaranteed, part of a deal that led to Mugabe’s resignation on Tuesday, sources close to the negotiations said.

For decades Mnangagwa was a faithful aide to Mugabe, who was widely accused of repression of dissent and election-rigging and under whose rule one of Africa’s once most prosperous economies was wrecked by hyperinflation and mass emigration.

Mnangagwa earned the nickname “Ngwena”, Shona for crocodile, an animal famed and feared in Zimbabwean lore for stealth and ruthlessness.

In his speech, Mnangagwa called for the removal of Western sanctions and said he wanted to “hit the ground running”.

Those listening to his speech said they were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt, but were also realistic about the chances of injecting life into an economy with 90 percent unemployment and banks devoid of cash.

In the last 15 years, an estimated 3 million Zimbabweans have emigrated to neighboring South Africa in search of a better life.

“I wanted to see for myself that Mugabe has really gone. He is the only president I’ve known,” said 33-year-old Lenin Tongoona.

“We have a new president who may try something a little different to improve the economy. I’m excited today but tomorrow is uncertain because we don’t know how he will turn out. He talks about creating jobs. How does he plan to do that?”

(Additional reporting by Ed Cropley in Johannesburg; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Andrew Roche)

Zimbabwe’s Mnangagwa to be sworn in as president on Friday

Zimbabwe's Mnangagwa to be sworn in as president on Friday

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa will be sworn in as president on Friday marking a new era for a country dominated by Robert Mugabe whose swift downfall this week ended nearly four decades in power.

The ruling ZANU-PF party has nominated Mnangagwa to fill the vacancy left by Mugabe on Tuesday and he will be sworn in on Friday, said Jacob Mudenda, the speaker of parliament.

Mugabe sacked Mnangagwa as vice president two weeks ago to smooth a path to the succession for his wife Grace, who is much younger than the 93-year-old leader. Mnangagwa fled for his own safety and the military seized control, shattering Mugabe’s authority.

Mugabe held on for a week with ZANU-PF and others urging him to resign. He stepped down finally on Tuesday moments after parliament began an impeachment process. People danced in the streets and some brandished posters of Mnangagwa and army chief General Constantino Chiwenga, who led the takeover.

Mnangagwa will land at Manyame Airbase in Harare at 6pm (1600 GMT), state broadcaster ZBC said.

“I am advised that the swearing-in ceremony is planned for Friday,” Mudenda said. Mnangagwa issued a statement from hiding on Tuesday calling on Zimbabweans to unite to rebuild the country.

Other African countries have seen veteran leaders ousted by popular uprisings or in elections.

By contrast, the military has ushered Mnangagwa to the threshold of power and for decades he was a faithful ally of Mugabe in charge of internal security in the mid-1980s when rights groups say 20,000 civilians were killed.

“OLD ELITES”

Zimbabwe’s next leader faces the task of restoring the country’s fortunes. Alleged human rights abuses and flawed elections prompted many Western countries to impose sanctions in the early-2000s that hurt the economy.

Chinese investment softened the blow but the population of 16 million remains mainly poor and faces currency shortages and high unemployment. Staging clean elections next year will be key to winning fresh investment.

Mnangagwa is almost certain to win that election but it would be a victory for the country’s “old elites” with the aid of China, said Guenther Nooke, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s personal representative for Africa.

“He will manage to get elected using fear or many tricks, and then we’ll have a succession from one tyrant to the next,” Nooke told broadcaster SWR2.

China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday it respected Mugabe’s decision to resign.

Mugabe leaves a complex legacy. He is among the last of a generation of African leaders who led their countries to independence and then ruled. That group includes Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, Julius Nyerere in Tanzania, Felix Houphouet-Boigny in Ivory Coast and Nelson Mandela in South Africa.

But he also presided over a steep decline in Zimbabwe’s economy, won a series of elections after stifling the opposition and he stands accused of persecuting opponents.

The forced takeover of white-owned farms from around 2000 aimed to bolster populist support for Mugabe but crippled foreign exchange earnings from agriculture and led to a period of hyperinflation.

“President Mugabe will be remembered as a fearless pan-Africanist liberation fighter and the father of the independent Zimbabwean nation,” the chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, said in a statement.

It said his decision to step down would enhance his legacy.

Many Zimbabweans also remain hostile to Mnangagwa because of his human rights record.

“The dark past is not going to disappear. They will be following him around like a piece of chewing gum on his shoe,” International Crisis Group’s southern Africa senior consultant Piers Pigou said.

“For him to really be seen to be doing the right thing, he’s going to have to introduce policies that fundamentally undermine the power structures of ZANU-PF, through a shift to genuine political pluralism and a decoupling of the party and state.”

(Reporting by Harare and Johannesburg bureaus; Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Zimbabwe’s parliament starts impeachment process against Mugabe

Zimbabwe's parliament starts impeachment process against Mugabe

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s parliament began an impeachment process against President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday that looks set to bring his domination of a country he has ruled since independence nearly four decades ago to an ignominious end.

In the last week, Mugabe has clung on in the face of a collapse of his authority and a Monday deadline to quit. (Graphic on players http://tmsnrt.rs/2A87YBx)

The army seized power a week ago and there have been mass protests against him and calls to resign from many sides including on Tuesday from the ruling party’s favorite to succeed him Emmerson Mnangagwa. (Graphic on economy http://tmsnrt.rs/2zFGGlq)

Parliament Speaker Jacob Mudenda said he received a motion to impeach and the parliament would adjourn to a hotel to start the proceedings on Tuesday afternoon. Zimbabwean law says a joint sitting can take place anywhere. Thousands or people demonstrated outside parliament urging Mugabe to quit. (Graphic on currency http://tmsnrt.rs/2mwbtLU)

Mugabe led Zimbabwe’s liberation war and is hailed as one of Africa’s founding fathers and a staunch supporter of the drive to free neighbouring South Africa from apartheid in 1994.

But many people in Africa and beyond also say he has damaged Zimbabwe’s economy, democracy and judiciary by staying in power for too long and has used violence to crush perceived political opponents.

(Writing by James Macharia; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Zimbabwe protesters begin marching towards Mugabe residence

Zimbabwe protesters begin marching towards Mugabe residence

By Joe Brock and MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabweans celebrating the expected fall of President Robert Mugabe began marching towards his residence in the capital Harare on Saturday, live television pictures showed, as the country prepared to oust its leader of the last 37 years.

Earlier in the day tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of the capital singing, dancing and hugging soldiers in an outpouring of elation as Mugabe’s rule comes to an end.

In scenes reminiscent of the downfall of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, men, women and children ran alongside the armored cars and troops that stepped in this week to oust the only ruler Zimbabwe has known since independence in 1980.

The 93-year-old Mugabe has been under house arrest in his lavish ‘Blue Roof’ compound in Harare, from where he has watched support from his Zanu-PF party, security services and people evaporate in less than three days.

Emotions ran over on Harare’s streets as Zimbabweans spoke of a second liberation for the former British colony, alongside their dreams of political and economic change after two decades of deepening repression and hardship.

“These are tears of joy,” Frank Mutsindikwa, 34, told Reuters, holding aloft the Zimbabwean flag. “I’ve been waiting all my life for this day. Free at last. We are free at last.”

Mugabe’s downfall is likely to send shockwaves across Africa, where a number of entrenched strongmen, from Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni to Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila, are facing mounting pressure to step aside.

The secretary-general of Zimbabwe’s War Veterans Association, Victor Matemadanda, called on those at an anti-Mugabe rally to march on Mugabe’s residence, and live television footage showed hundreds of protesters marching in that direction.

“Let us now go and deliver the message that grandfather Mugabe and his typist-cum-wife should go home,” Matemadanda told the crowd in the Harare township of Highfield.

The crowds in Harare have so far given a quasi-democratic veneer to the army’s intervention, backing its claims that it is merely effecting a constitutional transfer of power, which would help it avoid the diplomatic backlash and opprobrium that normally follows coups.

NO DIS-GRACE

For some Africans, Mugabe remains a nationalist hero, the continent’s last independence leader and a symbol of its struggle to throw off the legacy of decades of colonial subjugation.

But to many more at home and abroad, however, he was reviled as a dictator happy to resort to violence to retain power and to run a once-promising economy into the ground.

Although Mugabe has been digging in his heels in the face of army pressure to quit, he appears to have run out of road, devoid of domestic or international support.

Political sources and intelligence documents seen by Reuters said Mugabe’s exit is likely to pave the way for an interim unity government led by Mnangagwa, a life-long Mugabe aide and former security chief known as “The Crocodile”.

Stabilising the free-falling economy will be the number one priority, the documents said.

The United States, a long-time Mugabe critic, said it was looking forward to a “new era” in Zimbabwe, while President Ian Khama of neighboring Botswana said Mugabe had no diplomatic support in the region and should resign at once.

“I don’t think anyone should be president for that amount of time. We are presidents. We are not monarchs. It’s just common sense,” Khama told Reuters.

In a sign of the depth of his demise, Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF called on Friday for him to go, according to The Herald, the state newspaper that has served as a loyal mouthpiece for nearly four decades.

ZANU-PF branches in all 10 provinces had also called for the resignation of Mugabe’s wife Grace, the first lady whose ambitions to succeed her husband outraged the military and much of the country.

To many Zimbabweans, Grace is more familiar as “Gucci Grace” on account of her reported dedication to shopping, or – in the wake of the alleged assault in September of a South African model – “Dis-Grace”.

Mugabe’s nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, told Reuters on Saturday that the elderly leader and his wife were “ready to die for what is correct” and had no intention of stepping down in order to legitimize what he described as a coup.

Speaking from a secret location in South Africa, Zhuwao said Mugabe had hardly slept since the military seized power on Wednesday but his health was otherwise “good”.

STUBBORN

The extraordinary scenes in Harare are indicative of the anger and frustration that has built up in nearly two decades of economic mismanagement that started with the seizure of white-owned farms in 2000, the catalyst of a wider collapse.

The central bank tried to print its way out of trouble by unleashing a flood of cash but that only made matters worse, leading to hyperinflation that topped out at 500 billion percent in 2008.

At least 3 million Zimbabweans emigrated in search of a better life, most of them to neighboring South Africa.

After stabilizing briefly when Mugabe was forced to work with the opposition in a 2009-2013 unity government, the economy has collapsed again, this time due to a chronic shortage of dollars.

In October, monthly inflation leapt to more than 50 percent, putting basic goods beyond the means of many in a country with 90 percent unemployment.

Mugabe’s only public appearance since the military took over on Wednesday was at a university graduation ceremony on Friday morning. Decked out in blue and yellow academic gowns, he appeared tired, at one point falling asleep in his chair.

A senior member of the ZANU-PF ruling party said it was only a matter of time before he agreed to his own departure.

“If he becomes stubborn, we will arrange for him to be fired on Sunday,” the source said. “When that is done, it’s impeachment on Tuesday.”

(Additional reporting by Ed Cropley; Writing by Ed Cropley and Alexander Winning; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Janet Lawrence)

Zimbabwe’s Mugabe appears in public for first time since army took charge

Zimbabwe's Mugabe appears in public for first time since army took charge

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe appeared in public on Friday for the first time since the army took charge this week, as the ruling party made plans to force him to step down after more than three decades in power.

Mugabe, who is 93, opened a graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University in Harare. He wore blue and yellow academic robes and a mortar board hat and appeared to fall asleep in his chair as his eyes closed and his head lolled.

Mugabe led the country’s liberation struggle and has dominated its politics since independence in 1980. He said he is still in charge but a senior member of the ZANU-PF ruling party said it wanted him gone.

“If he becomes stubborn, we will arrange for him to be fired on Sunday,” the source said. “When that is done, it’s impeachment on Tuesday.”

In contrast, the military said in a statement on national television it was “engaging” with Mugabe. It referred to him as Commander in Chief and said it would announce an outcome as soon as possible.

Mugabe is revered as an elder statesman and member of the generation of Africa’s independence leaders but he is also viewed by many in Africa as a president who held his country back by remaining in power too long. He calls himself the grand old man of African politics.

Zimbabwe’s official newspaper, the Herald, ran photographs late on Thursday showing him grinning and shaking hands with military chief General Constantino Chiwenga, who seized power this week.

The images stunned Zimbabweans who thought it meant Mugabe was managing to hold out against Chiwenga’s coup, with some political sources saying he was trying to delay his departure until elections scheduled for next year.

The ZANU-PF source said that was not the case. Anxious to avoid a protracted stalemate, party leaders were drawing up plans to dismiss Mugabe at the weekend if he refused to quit, the source said.

“There is no going back,” the source told Reuters. “It’s like a match delayed by heavy rain, with the home side leading 90-0 in the 89th minute.”

The army is camped on his doorstep. His wife, Grace, is under house arrest, and her key political allies are in military custody. The police, once a bastion of support, have showed no signs of resistance.

Furthermore, he has little popular backing in the capital, a stronghold of support for opposition parties that have tapped into the anger and frustration at his handling of the economy, which collapsed after the seizure of white-owned farms in 2000.

Unemployment is now running at nearly 90 percent and chronic shortages of hard currency have triggered hyperinflation, with the prices of imports rising as much as 50 percent a month.

The only words Mugabe spoke at the graduation ceremony were met with ululations from the crowd. In a telling irony, one of the graduates was the wife of Chiwenga.

“A NEW ERA”

The United States, a longtime Mugabe critic, is seeking “a new era”, the State Department’s top official for Africa said, an implicit call for Mugabe to quit.

In an interview with Reuters, acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto appeared to dismiss the idea of keeping Mugabe in an interim or ceremonial role.

“It’s a transition to a new era for Zimbabwe, that’s really what we’re hoping for,” Yamamoto said.

The army appears to want Mugabe to go quietly and allow a smooth and bloodless transition to Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice president, whose sacking last week triggered the military takeover.

The main goal of the generals is to prevent Mugabe from handing power to his wife, Grace, who appeared on the cusp of power after Mnangagwa was pushed out.

Dumiso Dabengwa, a former head of intelligence and a Mnangagwa ally, is due to hold a news conference in Johannesburg.

A South African government source said he expected Dabengwa to discuss the events in Zimbabwe.

“It seems there is some sort of agreement,” the source said.

Zimbabwe’s struggling economy: http://tmsnrt.rs/2zN0EdF

(Additional reporting by Ed Cropley in Johannesburg and Warren Strobel in Washington; Writing by Ed Cropley and James Macharia; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Zimbabwe’s army seizes power, Mugabe confined but “safe”

Zimbabwe's army seizes power, Mugabe confined but "safe"

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s military seized power on Wednesday saying it was holding President Robert Mugabe and his family safe while targeting “criminals” in the entourage of the man who has ruled the nation since independence 37 years ago.

Soldiers seized the state broadcaster and a general appeared on television to announce the takeover. Armored vehicles blocked roads to the main government offices, parliament and the courts in central Harare, while taxis ferried commuters to work nearby. The atmosphere in the capital remained calm.

In his first contact with the outside world since the takeover, Mugabe spoke by telephone to the president of South Africa, Jacob Zuma, and told him he was confined to his home but fine, the South African presidency said in a statement.

It was not clear whether the apparent military coup would bring a formal end to the 93-year-old Mugabe’s rule; the main goal of the generals appeared to be preventing Mugabe’s wife Grace, 41 years his junior, from succeeding him.

But whether or not he goes, it may mark the end of the country’s dominance by Mugabe, the last of Africa’s state founders still in power from the era of the struggle against colonialism, and one of the continent’s most polarizing figures.

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.

He plunged Zimbabwe into a fresh political crisis last week by firing his vice president and presumed successor. The generals believed that move was aimed at clearing a path for Grace Mugabe to take over and announced on Monday they were prepared to “step in” if purges of their allies did not end.

“We are only targeting criminals around him (Mugabe) who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice,” Major General SB Moyo, Chief of Staff Logistics, said on television.

“As soon as we have accomplished our mission, we expect that the situation will return to normalcy.”

In a sign Grace Mugabe’s allies were coming under pressure, the head of the ruling party’s youth wing, Kudzanai Chipanga, appeared on state TV on Wednesday evening to apologize for comments he had made criticizing the army a day earlier. He said he was speaking voluntarily.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the African Union and Western countries called for calm.

South Africa’s defense and state security ministers flew into Harare to try to arrange talks between Mugabe and the generals, South African media reported without going into further details.

“We cannot tell how developments in Zimbabwe will play out in the days ahead and we do not know whether this marks the downfall of Mugabe or not,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told parliament. “We will do all we can, with our international partners, to ensure this provides a genuine opportunity for all Zimbabweans to decide their future.”

Finance Minister Ignatius Chombo, a leading member of the ruling party’s ‘G40’ faction, led by Grace Mugabe, had been detained by the military, a government source said.

CAREENING OFF A CLIFF

By Wednesday afternoon it was business as usual in Harare’s suburbs while there was less traffic than normal in the city center. Residents spoke in awe of events that had previously seemed unthinkable.

“I don’t support the army but I am happy to see Mugabe gone, maybe this country can start to develop again,” said Rumbi Katepfu, preparing to shut her mobile phone shop early in downtown Harare. “I did not think this would ever happen… We used to think Mugabe and Grace were invincible.”

As evening fell there were fewer people on the streets than usual. In one park, a lone couple shared a chocolate bar, seemingly unconcerned by the presence of troops. “What’s there to fear? This is a free country,” said Nathan Mpariwa, stroking the hand of his partner.

Tanks blocked roads after dark and soldiers with automatic weapons kept up their patrols, but made no effort to stop people streaming home from work.

Whatever the final outcome, the events could signal a once-in-a-generation change for the southern African nation, once a regional bread-basket, reduced to destitution by an economic crisis Mugabe’s opponents have long blamed on him.

Even many of Mugabe’s most loyal supporters had come to oppose the rise of his wife, who courted the powerful youth wing of the ruling party but alienated the military, led by Mugabe’s former guerrilla comrades from the 1970s independence struggle.

“This is a correction of a state that was careening off the cliff,” Chris Mutsvangwa, the leader of the liberation war veterans, told Reuters. “It’s the end of a very painful and sad chapter in the history of a young nation, in which a dictator, as he became old, surrendered his court to a gang of thieves around his wife.”

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change called for a peaceful return to constitutional democracy, adding it hoped the military intervention would lead to the “establishment of a stable, democratic and progressive nation state”.

Zuma – speaking on behalf of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) – expressed hope there would be no unconstitutional changes, and urged Zimbabwe’s government and the military “to resolve the political impasse amicably”.

ECONOMIC IMPLOSION

While most African states gained independence by the end of the 1960s, Zimbabwe remained one of the last European colonies on the continent, ruled by white settlers as Rhodesia until 1980. Mugabe took power after a long guerrilla struggle, and two decades later ordered the forcible seizure of white-owned farms.

The collapse in output that followed was one of the worst economic depressions of modern times. By 2007-2008 inflation topped out at 500 billion percent. Mugabe blamed Britain and the United States for sabotaging the country to bring it to heel. His followers used violence to suppress a growing domestic opposition he branded lackeys of former colonial powers.

The economy briefly stabilized from 2010-2014 when Mugabe was forced to accept a power-sharing government with the opposition, but since then the recovery has unraveled. In the last year, a chronic shortage of dollars has led to long queues outside banks. Imported goods are running out and economists say that by some measures inflation is now at 50 percent a month.

The economic implosion has destabilized the region, sending millions of poor laborers to neighboring South Africa.

“It’s an amazing thing that is happening. It was about time but it might be 20 years too late,” said Billy, 30, a Zimbabwean working as a marketing officer in South Africa. Asked if he would return to Zimbabwe if the economy was revived, he said: “Definitely, there is no place like home.”

The political crisis came to a head last week when Mugabe sacked his presumed heir, Vice President Emerson Mnangagwa, a long-serving former leader of the security forces nicknamed “the Crocodile” for his role as Mugabe’s enforcer over the decades.

The head of the military held a news conference with top brass on Monday threatening to “step in” if the purge of veterans continued. Soldiers deployed across Harare on Tuesday and seized the state broadcaster after Mugabe’s ruling party accused the military chief of treason.

According to a trove of intelligence documents reviewed by Reuters this year, Mnangagwa has been planning to revitalize the economy by bringing back white farmers kicked off their land and patching up relations with the World Bank and IMF.

(Additional reporting by Ed Cropley, James Macharia, Joe Brock and Alexander Winning in Johannesburg and Michelle Nichols at the United NAtions; Writing by James Macharia, Ed Cropley and Peter Graff; Graphic by Jermey Gaunt; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Andrew Heavens)