Zimbabweans flood Harare to celebrate end of Mugabe era

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People cheer a passing Zimbabwe Defense Force military vehicle during a demonstration demanding the resignation of Zimbabwe’s president in Harare on Saturday. — AFP

HARARE — Euphoric crowds of several thousand people gathered in Zimbabwe’s capital on Saturday to demand the departure of President Robert Mugabe, one of Africa’s last remaining liberation leaders, after nearly four decades in power.

In a colorful gathering that even days ago would have drawn an immediate police crackdown, Zimbabweans giddy with joy raced through intersections, raising their arms in triumph. Young men shouted, laughed and embraced. Others danced on top of moving buses.

Some had posters with an image of the military commander who swept in earlier this week and put Mugabe under house arrest, 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.

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 were making 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.

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 a 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.

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.

Outside Mugabe’s official residence, the State House, a place few previously dared venture, soldiers posed for pictures as marchers streamed by.

At an intersection, a vendor held up a newspaper with the headline: “Mugabe cornered.” The majority of adult Zimbabweans now survive on informal trade after formal industry collapsed.

Harare’s Robert Mugabe Street turned into a carnival. Drivers gunned their engines, blasted their horns and circled in a main intersection, enveloping the crowd in exhaust fumes.

One driver got out of his moving car and danced in front of it for a couple of minutes as the empty vehicle coasted slowly down a street lined with cheering crowds.

Some white Zimbabweans joined the crowd at Harare’s Freedom Square, also known as Robert Mugabe Square. Some whites and blacks hugged each other. — AP


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