Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans flooded the streets of Harare on Saturday, singing, dancing and hugging soldiers in an extraordinary outpouring of elation at the expected fall of President Robert Mugabe, their leader of the last 37 years.
A rally and speeches were conducted at the city’s Zimbabwe Grounds, where people had gathered in 1980 to cheer Mugabe’s return from exile after the liberation war from white minority rule.
Mugabe has been holed up in his lavish “Blue Roof” compound, from where he has watched support from his ZANU-PF party, the security services and the people evaporate in the wake of a military seizure of power on Wednesday.
On the streets of the capital, Zimbabweans let their emotions run free as they spoke of political and economic change after two decades of repression and deepening hardship.
Some held aloft placards reading “Mugabe must leave Zimbabwe now!” and pumping their fists in the air in a sign of freedom. Others embraced the soldiers who seized power, shouting “Thank you! Thank you!” in scenes unthinkable even a week ago.
Other demonstrators removed street signs with the name Robert Mugabe and stomped on them.
“People say that for the first time they are not afraid to come out on the streets and demonstrate. They don’t think there will be reprisals because they believe that it is the end of Robert Mugabe in their country,” said CBC’s Margaret Evans, reporting from Harare.
“[There are] a lot of social instabilities because of the social economic downfall, so we are here just to gather up and support our military so they turn around the situation,” said Nomsa Dube, a resident of Harare.
Zimbabwe’s state-run broadcaster on Saturday called the country “free and liberated” and showed previously unthinkable footage of speeches at a rally where speakers declared “This is the new Zimbabwe.”
The military, which put Mugabe under house arrest this week, approved the demonstration that included people from across the political spectrum.
The ruling ZANU-PF called on Friday for Mugabe to resign, the main state newspaper The Herald reported, in a clear sign that the 93-year-old leader’s authority has gone. A senior member of ZANU-PF told Reuters the party wanted Mugabe out, and would not tolerate foot-dragging.