Pressure is mounting on the 93-year-old leader, who is refusing to accept a deal with the military that would allow him to resign without the disgrace of being forced from office.
Mugabe’s allies are quickly turning against him, and now his own ZANU-PF party — which he co-founded to usher his country into independence — looks set to give him a vote of no confidence Sunday.
At the party’s headquarters in the capital, Harare, official Obert Mpofu opened the meeting, declaring that the meeting’s aim was to recall Mugabe, a statement that received a standing ovation and roars of support.
Mpofu, a former mining minister who once described himself as Mugabe’s most obedient son, said he and members had gathered with a “heavy heart” at the headquarters, a place still adorned with images of the veteran leader.
Removing Mugabe as party leader would not automatically dethrone him as Zimbabwe’s President, but it is an indication that if parliament held a vote on his future, they would have the numbers to impeach him.
Mugabe’s 37-year rule has been on the brink of collapse since the army seized power in the capital, Harare, on Wednesday and placed the leader under house arrest as they tried to negotiate his exit.
Zimbabwe was thrust into political chaos on November 6 when Mugabe fired his powerful vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, in an attempt to anoint his wife, Grace Mugabe, as the country’s next leader.
Mugabe ‘willing to die’
Sources have told CNN that a deal would involve Mugabe stepping down to make way for an interim President, while Mnangagwa would likely be installed as the next ZANU-PF leader at a congress in December, paving the way for the presidency in next year’s election.
But after days of talks with military officials, with a Catholic priest as arbiter, Mugabe has refused to agree to a deal, an official told CNN. State media reports he will on Sunday again meet with military officials, who are growing increasingly impatient with the leader.
Zimbabwe’s Indigenization Minister Patrick Zhuwao, who is also Mugabe’s nephew, said the President “is willing to die for his principles.”
“He is willing to die to protect the constitution.”
Mugabe is the world’s oldest head of state and once infamously claimed that “only God” could remove him from office. He had planned to contest the 2018 presidential election, despite his age.
Mnangagwa has not been seen since his dismissal, but CNN has learned that he had been instrumental for some time in plans to seize control from the President.
“This takeover was planned a long time ago by Emmerson Mnangagwa and secret discussions did take place with opposition about a succession plan including forcing out Mugabe,” a senior opposition leader told CNN.
Mnangagwa served as Mugabe’s right-hand man throughout his entire leadership and is among many allies who have turned on the President, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders.
Protesters demand change
The country’s powerful army veterans organization, once loyal to Mugabe, has also turned on the President. The group organized a rally in Harare on Saturday
, in which tens of thousands of people called for an end to Mugabe’s rule.
Some waved Zimbabwean flags and placards with slogans like “Mugabe Must Rest Now” and “No to Mugabe Dynasty,” a rare sight in Zimbabwe, where such gatherings had been banned for decades.
“The whole nation is celebrating today. We are finally getting rid of the old man,” said Tanashe, a Harare resident who declined to provide a second name.
Others ran alongside army tanks and hugged soldiers to show their gratitude for their actions.
Foreign powers have also largely supported the military’s actions so far, with few international voices condemning its apparent coup.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on the army to show restraint but described the situation in Zimbabwe as an “opportunity” for the country.