After years of repression and economic woes, Zimbabweans have seized a moment of freedom. The streets of Harare have been filled with an emotional outpouring of joy and hope.
Thousands of people took to the streets in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, on Saturday carrying national flags and dancing in anticipation of Robert Mugabe's resignation.
Some carried posters with a picture of the military commander and the slogan, "Go, go our general!!!!" Other banners included slogans such as "Mugabe must leave Zimbabwe" and "Bob's not your uncle."
Local resident George Edwards told DW correspondent Privilege Musvanhiri that Mugabe was "a dictator" and that any change was good. "This is a fresh start ... Anything else is a bonus. We just want a change," he said.
Later on Saturday, state broadcaster ZBC announced that Mugabe was meeting with army chiefs on Sunday in a bid to end the crisis.
"President Robert Mugabe will meet the commander-elect of the Zimbabwe Defence Forces," ZBC said, quoting the Catholic priest Father Fidelis Mukonori, who has been chairing the talks between the two parties.
Mugabe's ZANU-PF is to hold an extraordinary meeting of the party's central committee on Sunday morning to consider removing Mugabe and to reinstate Emmerson Mnangagwa as party vice-president, according to Reuters. Mugabe’s wife, Grace, is expected to be fired as head of the ZANU-PF Women’s League.
Another marcher, who said he was a doctoral candidate unable to find work, told DW: "We have come to reclaim our country. We have come to reclaim it from Robert Gabriel Mugabe," adding that it was time for youth to be "represented in the governance of this country."
"It's like Christmas," another marcher, Fred Mubay, told the Associated Press news agency.
Zimbabwe's state-run media has broadcast images of people protesting, which would not have been possible only a week ago. Similarly, the state-run Herald newspaper has run with the headline, "#Mugabe Must Go!" writing that "the revolutionary train derailed somewhere along the way."
Soldiers also took to the streets on Saturday to show solidarity with the people, whipping up the crowds into a frenzy.
"We are happy our soldiers stood with us, the people. They must finish the good job to make sure Mugabe goes. We have been suffering," said Baliwe Sibanda, who was also taking part in the march. "We are so happy they freed us from the Mugabe dynasty."
In the working-class Harare suburb of Highfield, around 10,000 protesters gathered on a large sports field. Highfield was where Mugabe gave his first speech after returning from exile in Mozambique, before independence was declared in 1980.
"This is a great day for us. For 37 years we have had nothing to show for participating in the liberation war, while his family were living it large," said Sonia Kandemiri, a veteran of the Zimbabwean independence movement.
Live television pictures showed crowds marching toward Mugabe's official residence in Harare, after the secretary-general of the powerful war veterans group, Victor Matemadanda, told crowds to "deliver the message that grandfather Mugabe and his typist-cum-wife should go home."
Mugabe lives in a private mansion that is situated elsewhere.
South African President Jacob Zuma, speaking in Durban on Saturday, has said that the African region was firmly behind the Zimbabwean people. He also said he was cautiously optimistic that the situation could be resolved amicably.
On Friday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the people of Zimbabwe must now choose their own government through elections.
The president of the Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara, also spoke on Friday, saying, "It is time for Mugabe to hand over his seat to a new generation."
Mugabe under house arrest
The marches bring to an end a tumultuous week in which army generals seized power, putting Mugabe under house arrest in a dramatic development for the president who has ruled since 1980.
The 93-year-old dictator did not step down after talks with the army chief on Thursday and sources allege that he is trying to "buy time" in order to negotiate a dignified end to his 37-year reign.
His wife, Grace Mugabe, who has hopes to succeed her husband, was believed to have fled to Namibia. Local Namibian authorities have denied this, with the latest reports alleging she is holed up in the Mugabe mansion in the capital.
Mugabe made his first public appearance on Friday at a graduation ceremony in Harare, raising questions about the status of his discussions with General Constantino Chiwenga, who led the military power grab.
Also on Friday, Chris Mutsvangwa, chairman of the independence war veterans' association, made a statement, saying, "the game is up" for Mugabe and announcing street protests against the president.
"It's done, it's finished ... The generals have done a fantastic job," he said at a press conference in Harare. "We want to restore our pride and [Saturday] is the day ... we can finish the job which the army started."
The status quo may continue
Although many would welcome an end to the Mugabe era, some claim that the "coup" was instigated in a bid to prevent change and continue the status quo.
The army may need Mnangagwa to give legitimacy to the change of leadership, as the Zimbabwe Defense Forces (ZDF) could not take over control of the country without jeopardizing regional alliances.
Mnangagwa has had an on-off relationship with Mugabe over the years. After Mugabe established the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), Mnangagwa was, for a time, his right-hand man. Over the years he has fallen from grace and been reinstated.
However, Mnangagwa has been implicated at every stage of Mugabe's human rights abuses and violent crackdowns during the last 37 years. A particularly horrific example was in the early 1980s, when Mugabe set about crushing support for rival party ZAPU (Zimbabwe African People's Union). North Korean-trained troops descended on ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo's stronghold in Matabeleland. In the genocide that followed, known as "Gukurahundi," more than 20,000 Ndebele people were murdered. The operation, orchestrated by Mnangagwa, earned him the nickname "the crocodile."
cl/jlw (Reuters, AP, AFE, AFPE, dpa)