Zimbabwe has been gripped by drama after the military intervened against President Robert Mugabe, 93, who has ruled the country since 1980. Attention has since shifted to the prominent figures who could play a role in any transitional government.

Robert Mugabe attends a university graduation ceremony in a first public appearance since the military takeover in a defiant gesture in Harare on November 17, 2017.
Robert Mugabe attends a university graduation ceremony in a first public appearance since the military takeover in a defiant gesture in Harare on November 17, 2017. (Reuters)

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe attended a university graduation ceremony on Friday, making a defiant first public appearance since the military takeover that appeared to signal the end of his 37-year reign.

Mugabe, 93, had been confined to house arrest after the military took over late on Tuesday after vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa was abruptly sacked and Mugabe's wife Grace emerged in prime position to succeed her increasingly frail husband.

But on Friday, he walked into the ceremony venue in Harare dressed in a blue academic gown and tasselled hat, before listening to speeches with his eyes closed and applauding occasionally.

TRT World's Caitlin McGee has more.

Army to support "solidarity march"

Meanwhile, the country's military said that it fully supported a "solidarity march" in Harare on Saturday, part of an apparent groundswell of support in efforts to get Mugabe to step down.

Zimbabwe's ruling ZANU-PF party is also planning to hold a mass meeting on Saturday to show its support for attempts by the military and veterans of the liberation war to remove Mugabe from power. 

The military says it is continuing talks with Mugabe for his departure while it pursues those who were close to the leader and his wife.

ZANU-PF party units seek Mugabe's resignation

On Friday, eight of the 10 regional branches of ZANU-PF party called for him to resign on Friday, state TV reported.

"The province resolved unanimously to recall the president... from being the president of the party and the government," said Cornelius Mupereri, a spokesman for the party's Midlands region. 

He was one of several branch officials to appear on ZBC's nightly news to call for Mugabe to go in what appeared to be a coordinated effort, with the officials reading almost identical statements.

Their declarations add to the already considerable pressure on Mugabe to go which has been mounting since generals seized power on Tuesday night and placed him under house arrest.

The unfolding drama has thrown the capital Harare into confusion when a smiling Mugabe was pictured shaking hands with Zimbabwe's military chief, the man behind the coup, raising questions about whether or not the end of an era was near.

Mnangagwa returns

Zimbabwe's former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose sacking last week triggered the military takeover, has returned to the country, a senior aide said.

Zimbabwe's Mutsvangwa on Friday said Mugabe will not be allowed to resist military to stay in power.

Mugabe unexpectedly drove on Thursday from his lavish "Blue Roof" compound, where he had been confined, to State House, where official media pictured him meeting military boss Constantino Chiwenga and South African mediators.

The official Herald newspaper carried no reports of the meeting's outcome, leaving Zimbabwe's 13 million people in the dark about the situation.

Philip Owira reports on the mixed feelings residents have about the future. 

'A new era'

In an interview with Reuters, acting US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Donald Yamamoto appeared to dismiss the idea of Mugabe remaining in a transitional or ceremonial role.

"It's a transition to a new era for Zimbabwe, that's really what we're hoping for," Yamamoto said.

The army may want Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, to go quietly and allow a smooth and bloodless transition to Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice president Mugabe sacked last week, triggering the crisis.

The main goal of the generals it seems is to prevent Mugabe from handing power to his wife, Grace, 41 years his junior. She has built a following among the ruling party's youth wing and appeared on the cusp of power after Mnangagwa was pushed out.

Mugabe, who at 93 has appeared increasingly frail in public, is insisting he remains Zimbabwe's only legitimate ruler and is refusing to quit. But pressure was mounting on the former guerrilla to accept offers of a graceful exit, political sources said.

Zimbabwe’s former head of intelligence, Dumiso Dabengwa, was to hold a news conference in Johannesburg at 1200 GMT. A South African government source said he expected Dabengwa, a close ally of the ousted Mnangagwa, to discuss the events in Zimbabwe. "It seems there is some sort of agreement," the source said.

"Grand Old Man" of African politics

The army's takeover signalled the collapse in less than 36 hours of the security, intelligence and patronage networks that sustained Mugabe through almost four decades in power and built him into the "Grand Old Man" of African politics.

Mugabe is still seen by many Africans as a liberation hero. But he is reviled in the West as a despot whose disastrous handling of the economy and willingness to resort to violence to maintain power pauperised one of Africa's most promising states.

Once a regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe saw its economy collapse after the seizure of white-owned farms in the early 2000s, followed by runaway money-printing that catapulted inflation to 500 billion percent in 2008.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies