Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has resisted mounting pressure to step down, telling the nation that he will preside over a ruling party congress next month.
The 93-year-old Zimbabwean leader had been widely expected to announce his resignation as Zimbabwe’s head of state and government on Sunday, five days after a surprise military takeover in which he was placed under house arrest.
But in his much-anticipated TV address from his State House office, Mugabe acknowledged criticism but said the country needs to “return to normalcy” without making any statement on his position.
“Whatever the pros and cons of how they [the army] went about their operation, I, as commander-in-chief, do acknowledge their concerns,” said Mugabe, seated alongside army commanders.
“We must learn to forgive and resolve contradictions real or perceived in a comradely Zimbabwean spirit,” he added.
It was a dramatic turn of events in a week that has seen the army taking control and the streets of Harare filled with tens of thousands of people expressing support for the military’s action and calling for the president to step down.
Earlier on Sunday, there were jubilant scenes at the ZANU-PF headquarters in Harare as the ruling party announced the expulsion of Mugabe as its leader and gave him a Monday noon ultimatum to step down as president, or face impeachment.
ZANU-PF officials said Mugabe, who has been leading Zimbabwe for 37 years, would face impeachment proceedings in parliament on Tuesday if the deadline passed.
Party members also expelled his wife, Grace, from its ranks and voted to name the sacked Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, whom Mugabe fired on November 6, as new party leader.
Despite having been dismissed as ZANU-PF’s leader, Mugabe vowed to preside over a key party conference in December.
“The party congress is due in a few weeks and I will preside over its processes,” he said in his national address..
‘Surprise and disbelief’
Al Jazeera’s Haru Mutasa, reporting from Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare, said “a lot of people are surprised” Mugabe did not step down “after all this pressure”.
“There is no celebration on the streets, just disbelief,” she said.
“Sources behind the scenes say that he is being stubborn and for now he isn’t going anywhere,” added Mutasa.
“It could be a plan he’s working on to exit gracefully, or it could also be that he doesn’t understand there is such a massive unhappiness,” she added, noting all eyes would now be on the Monday midday deadline.
Some Zimbabweans who tuned in to watch Mugabe’s speech live said they were let down by his refusal to step down.
“We are still just waiting to hear something definitive, like ‘I’m stepping down’,” said a young Harare resident.
“He just spoke a lot and he didn’t say anything,” he added.
Stephen Chan, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, said that despite Mugabe’s defiant stance, his decades-long rule was effectively over.
“I’ll be most surprised if he survives the week,” Chan, author of Robert Mugabe: A Life of Power and Violence, told Al Jazeera from the UK capital, London.
“He can’t address the Congress; he is no longer the president of the party.
“This is just defiance – this is simply the old man going down with all of his guns firing. They are blank shots, however, because they can’t have any real effect.”
Georgina Godwin, a Zimbabwean journalist, pointed to the presence of army officials next to Mugabe to argue that his speech had been approved by the military.
“I’m sure the army must have agreed to this – all the generals were sitting there,” she told Al Jazeera.
“This is the way to have a dignified exit.”