Robert Mugabe will be removed as Zimbabwe president, two sources from the country’s ruling ZANU-PF party have said.
The party will reportedly hold a special central committee meeting on Sunday morning to dismiss the 93-year-old as leader.
The meeting is due to start at 10.30am local time and is also set to see the removal of Mugabe’s wife, Grace, as head of the ZANU-PF Women’s League.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was ousted by Mugabe earlier this month as Zimbabwe’s vice-president, will be reinstated.
The move comes amid what has been a day of celebrations in the capital Harare.
There had been calls for a “Day of Rage,” but tens of thousands poured into the streets on Saturday convinced that they were seeing the end of Mugabe’s 37-year rule.
Protesters even began marching towards Mugabe’s ‘Blue Roof’ residence, live television pictures showed.
In scenes reminiscent of the downfall of Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in 1989, men, women and children ran alongside the armoured cars and troops that stepped in this week to oust the only ruler Zimbabwe has known since independence in 1980.
The 93-year-old Mugabe has been under house arrest in his lavish ‘Blue Roof’ compound in Harare, from where he has watched support from his ZANU-PF party, security services and people evaporate in less than three days.
Mugabe’s nephew, Patrick Zhuwao, told Reuters on Saturday that the elderly leader and his wife were “ready to die for what is correct” and had no intention of stepping down in order to legitimise what he described as a coup.
Speaking from a secret location in South Africa, Zhuwao said Mugabe had hardly slept since the military seized power on Wednesday but his health was otherwise “good.”
In Harare’s streets, emotions ran high as Zimbabweans spoke of a second liberation for the former British colony, alongside their dreams of political and economic change after two decades of deepening repression and hardship.
“These are tears of joy,” Frank Mutsindikwa, 34, said, holding aloft the Zimbabwean flag. “I’ve been waiting all my life for this day. Free at last. We are free at last.”
Mugabe’s downfall is likely to send shockwaves across Africa, where a number of entrenched strongmen, from Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni to Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila, are facing mounting pressure to step aside.
The secretary-general of Zimbabwe’s War Veterans Association, Victor Matemadanda, called on those at an anti-Mugabe rally to march on Mugabe’s residence, and live television footage showed hundreds of protesters marching in that direction.
“Let us now go and deliver the message that grandfather Mugabe and his typist-cum-wife should go home,” Matemadanda told the crowd in the Harare township of Highfield.
The crowds in Harare have so far given a quasi-democratic veneer to the army’s intervention, backing its claims that it is merely effecting a constitutional transfer of power, which would help it avoid the diplomatic backlash and opprobrium that normally follows coups.
Zimbabweans abroad were also awaiting the end of Mugabe’s rule. Hundreds living in Britain gathered outside the country’s embassy in central London calling on the leader to step aside.
“I am happy today because Bob Mugabe is about to go. He must go. At least if he goes, we’ll have a change of president after so many years of injustice,” said Florence, a 34-year-old who declined to give her last name.
For some Africans, Mugabe remains a nationalist hero, the continent’s last independence leader and a symbol of its struggle to throw off the legacy of decades of colonial subjugation.
But to many more at home and abroad, however, he was reviled as a dictator happy to resort to violence to retain power and to run a once-promising economy into the ground.
Although Mugabe has been digging in his heels in the face of army pressure to quit, he appears to have run out of road, devoid of domestic or international support.
Political sources and intelligence documents seen by Reuters said Mugabe’s exit is likely to pave the way for an interim unity government led by Mnangagwa, a life-long Mugabe aide and former security chief known as “The Crocodile.”
Stabilising the free-falling economy will be the number one priority, the documents said.
The United States, a long-time Mugabe critic, said it was looking forward to a “new era” in Zimbabwe, while President Ian Khama of neighbouring Botswana said Mugabe had no diplomatic support in the region and should resign at once.
The scenes in Harare reflect the anger and frustration that has built up in nearly two decades of economic mismanagement that started with the seizure of white-owned farms in 2000, the catalyst of a wider collapse.
The central bank tried to print its way out of trouble by unleashing a flood of cash but that only made matters worse, leading to hyperinflation that topped out at 500 billion per cent in 2008.
At least three million Zimbabweans emigrated in search of a better life, most of them to neighbouring South Africa.
After stabilising briefly when Mugabe was forced to work with the opposition in a 2009-2013 unity government, the economy has collapsed again, this time due to a chronic shortage of dollars in the country of 16 million people.
In October, monthly inflation leapt to more than 50 per cent, putting basic goods beyond the means of many in a country with 90 per cent unemployment.
Mugabe’s only public appearance since the military took over on Wednesday was at a university graduation ceremony on Friday morning. Decked out in blue and yellow academic gowns, he appeared tired, at one point falling asleep in his chair.
A senior member of the ZANU-PF ruling party said it was only a matter of time before he agreed to his own departure.
“If he becomes stubborn, we will arrange for him to be fired on Sunday,” the source said. “When that is done, it’s impeachment on Tuesday.”