Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe gestures during his 93rd birthday celebrations in Harare, Zimbabwe, on February 21, 2017. Picture: REUTERS
Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe gestures during his 93rd birthday celebrations in Harare, Zimbabwe, on February 21, 2017. Picture: REUTERS

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, two of his cabinet ministers and the head of the military met South African envoys on Thursday in his office, a day after the military seized power.

Photos on the state Herald newspaper website showed Mugabe, Gen Constantine Chiwenga, Defence Minister Sydney Sekeramayi and State Security Minister Kembo Mohadi speaking with SA’s Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and State Security Minister Bongani Bongo, alongside Catholic priest Fidelis Mukonori.

Mukonori has been the go-between in Mugabe’s talks with the armed forces. The details of their discussions were not released and sources emerged with conflicting information.

One said Mugabe remained defiant, resisting a push from generals for him to step down, while another said the president had agreed to step down and only needed security assurances for him and his family.

Early on Thursday, Movement for Democratic Change leader Morgan Tsvangirai added his voice to mounting calls for the veteran ruler to step down.

"In the interests of the people, Mr Robert Mugabe must resign and step down immediately in line with the national expectation and sentiment, taking full regard of his legacy and contribution to Zimbabwe pre-and postindependence.

"There must be a negotiated, all-inclusive transitional mechanism," Tsvangirai said.

Mugabe, who had been under house arrest for 24 hours, had his first opportunity to leave his Borrowdale mansion on Thursday, to make his way to State House for a meeting with the generals. It is understood that Mugabe initially wanted to hold the meeting at his Blue Roof mansion in Borrowdale and to meet the military generals "one by one".

"They refused to meet him at his house, because that is not an official place. So the meeting was moved to a place where official government business is conducted," said a source familiar with the proceedings.

The "people now in charge" plan to try to negotiate the establishment of a transitional government with the opposition until elections could be held to restore stability. But first they want a deal with Mugabe, whose 37-year rule left an economy halved in size since 2000, a severe cash shortage that is choking business and a collapse in government services. The military has declined to comment on its plans.

"The military, or the people who are now in charge, obviously they have some respect for Mugabe — he is someone who has led them for so many years," Alex Magaisa, a Zimbabwean law lecturer, who helped to draw up the 2013 constitution, said in London.

"I think there is still some residual sympathy for him. They wouldn’t want to be seen to be mistreating him."

Tendai Biti, the former finance minister and leader of the People’s Democratic Party in Zimbabwe, said there was a need for a transitional authority to step in and devise a roadmap to free and fair elections.

"I don’t know why it’s called an impasse. These are processes that are under way in order to negotiate. We can’t expect him to go out immediately because that is the nature of Mugabe, he will refuse to leave.

"How long did it take for us to negotiate for a unity government? We started in 2007 and only signed in 2009," Biti said.

Meanwhile, the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) troika meeting held in Botswana on Thursday failed to pave the way forward for Zimbabweans, with members recommending an urgent extra-ordinary summit of the group.

The ministers responsible for foreign or external affairs from the troika member states, Angola, Tanzania and Zambia and the Sadc council chairwoman, South African Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, urged stakeholders to settle the political challenges "through peaceful means".

The brief statement released on Thursday evening after deliberations also emphasised the need for Sadc member states to rely on their own constitutions, while stressing that it was committed to the AU’s constitutive act and the Sadc’s democratic principles regarding the "unconstitutional removal" of democratically elected governments.

"The meeting noted with great concern the unfolding situation in Zimbabwe," read the statement.

The Sadc has long been accused of failing Zimbabwe and the region by not pushing for immediate action when the need arose during instances of political instability.

The head of the AU told journalists that the body would "never accept the military coup d’état" in Zimbabwe.

Alpha Conde, also the president of Guinea, was speaking to journalists in Paris on Thursday, and said the AU demanded respect for the constitution and a return to constitutional order.

"We know there are internal problems. They need to be resolved politically by the Zanu-PF party and not with an intervention by the army."

With Bloomberg, Reuters and AFP

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