'We are free!': Tens of thousands celebrate end of era in Zimbabwe

  • civil unrest
  • Zimbabwe


'We are free!': Tens of thousands celebrate end of era in Zimbabwe

Harare was the scene of a massive street party on Saturday as tens of thousands of joyful Zimbabweans turned out to show their support for this week's military takeover and urge long-time leader Robert Mugabe to step down.

In unprecedented numbers jubilant protesters packed the city centre, which was a sea of brightly-coloured Zimbabwean flags, with people draped in them, flying them from their cars and women even wearing them in their braids.

Others hung precariously off the back of trucks or perched on top of minibuses, many with Zimbabwe's strong local beer, Chibuku, in hand.

Unlike previous demonstrations in Harare, which have been violently shut down, there was no police presence. Soldiers in camouflage uniforms sat astride their armoured personal carriers smiling and taking selfies with the crowd.

People carried humorous banners that would never have been allowed in the past. Many mocked Mugabe and his wife Grace who is widely loathed for her political ambitions and was often derided as "Gucci Grace" and "First Shopper" for her expensive taste.

"Gucci rags, pack your bags," one sign read, while another stated, "G40 pay back the money!" - a reference to Generation 40, a powerful political faction led by Grace, and the target of Wednesday's coup.

Protesters were seen carrying a fake coffin for Mugabe, while others tore down a street sign bearing his name.

Some people carried banners reading "Mugabe must leave Zimbabwe" and "Bob's not your uncle" as well as placards thanking the military.

Zimbabwe's army seized power in a bloodless coup this week, placing Mugabe, 93, under house arrest and detaining some of his allies. He is said to be resisting calls to step aside and negotiations are ongoing.

The army wants an interim government set up and for elections to then be held.

A second set of talks between Mugabe and the military is due to take place on Sunday, Zimbabwe's state broadcaster reported on Saturday evening.

Among those attending the talks will be a priest who has been mediating, Fidelis Mukonori, a representative of the intelligence agencies, and a representative from the Ministry of Information.

“He risks being impeached on Tuesday by parliament if he remains adamant,” a source in the negotiations told dpa.

Black and white Zimbabweans, young and old, mixed as they made their way though the city to Mugabe's home, State House.

"We're here because we're celebrating - we just want Mugabe to go," said Shadrack, a 35-year-old unemployed man. "We thank the generals. This is a new independence day!"

Many posters also featured Emmerson Mnangagwa, better known as "The Crocodile," Mugabe’s long-time deputy and Grace Mugabe's main competition in the race to succeed the president.

A group of friends were heard singing, "it all started with the ice cream," a reference to Mnangagwa's recent accusation that Grace had given him poisoned ice cream at a party.

Street vendors selling anti-Mugabe paraphernalia were doing a roaring trade hawking t-shirts and berets printed with #stepdown, while strangers hugged each other, shouting: "We are free!"

"We want a new Zimbabwe," said Tina, a white Zimbabwean in her 50s, who was marching alongside her young daughter. "We want everyone to unite and get this country back on track."

A 28-year-old accountant named Lisbon told dpa that "Zimbabweans are very happy - any change is good for now."

The influential War Veterans Association had organized the rally, which saw political foes joining together. Opposition Movement for Democratic Change supporters as well as Zanu-PF supporters all united in a show of force against the Mugabe family.

"We are now uniting a big chunk of Zimbabwe's population," said Chris Mutsvangwa, head of the war veterans.

It was a day many Zimbabweans had never seen coming or only dreamt of. For those under 37, Mugabe is the only leader they have ever known.


Note to editors

  • Adding Sunday meeting grafs 11-12

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Editorial contacts

  • Reporting by: Kate Bartlett in Harare
  • Editing by: Robin Powell
  • Tel: +49 30 2852 31472; <international@dpa.com>

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