Thousands of Zimbabweans have taken to the streets in the country’s capital of Harare, calling for the resignation of President Robert Mugabe after nearly four decades in power.
An estimated 5,000 elated demonstrators marched through the capital city on Saturday, waving national flags and chanting slogans against the 93-year-old veteran amid nationwide tensions over an effective coup against him.
Organizers of the mass rally said the move was “a show of people’s force” and public defiance against the long-time president and his close allies.
“These are tears of joy,” Frank Mutsindikwa, a participant in the anti-Mugabe rally said, holding aloft the Zimbabwean flag. “I’ve been waiting all my life for this day. Free at last. We are free at last.”
Another demonstration is also expected to take place in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city, as eight of Mugabe’s ZANU-PF ruling party’s 10 regional branches have called for him to go.
Political tensions emerged in Zimbabwe earlier this month after Mugabe fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa and accused him of plotting to take power, including through witchcraft.
Mnangagwa, who enjoyed the backing of the military, had previously been considered the most likely to succeed the president if Mugabe resigned or died while in power. His sudden dismissal, however, raised speculations that Mugabe was clearing the way for his wife, Grace, to take the position.
The Saturday rally came three days after the army seized power in the country in what was described by the leader of the African Union as a “coup.”
Military forces blocked roads to the main government buildings in the center of Harare and sought to portray it as a “bloodless transition” away from Mugabe, who has been in power for almost four decades, since the former British colony gained independence from the UK in 1980.
Mugabe and his wife have been on the European Union (EU)’s sanctions list along with other key figures in Zimbabwe’s ruling elite, facing travel bans and asset freezes abroad.
The Zimbabwean president has called the sanctions, by the EU and separately by the United States over rights issues “wrong,” blaming them for his government’s failure to pay its workers on time, which led to a crippling strike last year.