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Ecstatic Zimbabweans celebrate expected Mugabe downfall

By Joe Brock and MacDonald Dzirutwe

November 18. 2017 11:28PM
Protesters took to the streets of Harare on Saturday to call for Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to step down. (Reuters)

HARARE, Zimbabwe - Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans flooded the streets of Harare on Saturday, singing, dancing and hugging soldiers in an outpouring of elation at the expected fall of President Robert Mugabe, their leader of the last 37 years.

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.

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.

"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."

Some held aloft placards reading "No to Mugabe dynasty" and pumped their fists in the air in a sign of freedom, an echo of the gesture made by South Africa's Nelson Mandela when he walked out of an apartheid jail in 1990.

Others embraced the soldiers who seized power, shouting, "Thank you! Thank you!" in scenes unthinkable even a week ago.

In one telling metaphor, a metal street sign bearing the inscription R. Mugabe Rd had been torn down, crumpled up and thrown in a litter bin.

"These are our leaders now," said Remember Moffat, 22, waving a picture of army commander Constantino Chiwenga and Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice president whose sacking this month precipitated the coup.

"My dream is to see a new Zimbabwe. I've only known this tyrant called Mugabe my whole life."

Importantly for the army, the massive crowds in Harare give a quasi-democratic veneer to its 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.

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.

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.

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