Zimbabwe’s president had vowed to rule until his death.
Instead, the world’s oldest head of state — he is 93 — said he intended to preside over his ruling ZANU-PF party’s congress when that takes place in December.
“The congress is due in a few weeks from now. I will preside over its processes, which must not be possessed by any acts calculated to undermine it or compromise the outcomes in the eyes of the public,” Mugabe said in his address on national TV.
Earlier Sunday, the ZANU-PF party said he must resign as Zimbabwe’s president by noon Monday or impeachment proceedings would begin, an ultimatum that was expected to accelerate his forced expulsion from the presidency.
The party also formally ousted Mugabe as its leader so he would not be able to preside over the congress as he said in his speech.
Mugabe came to power in 1980 after fighting in a war of independence from Britain. He has vowed to rule until his death. However, his allies turned against him after the country’s military intervened last week to prevent the longtime leader from installing his wife, Grace, 52, as the African nation’s next president.
News agencies Reuters and the Associated Press reported Sunday that Mugabe was working on a resignation statement with the military. But that did not happen.
Flanked by military commanders who days earlier ordered his house arrest, Mugabe said he was aware of a “whole range of concerns,” including the economy, which is going through “a difficult patch.”
He looked frail and at times struggled to read from his address.
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If he does go, his exit could clear a path to power for former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is expected to lead a new government after his formal election as ruling party chief next month. Mnangagwa was fired by Mugabe two weeks ago.
Mugabe had been under house arrest for the last two days. The whereabouts of his unpopular wife, whose lavish lifestyle has led her critics to brand her “Gucci Grace,” are not known. She had already been cast out of the ruling party and may have fled abroad.
ZANU-PF accuses Grace Mugabe of “preaching hate, divisiveness and assuming roles and powers not delegated to the office.”
On Saturday, huge crowds took the streets of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare to demonstrate against the Mugabes, who for years have smothered political dissent in the country and brought what was once one of Africa’s wealthiest nations to economic disaster.
“If Mugabe is not gone by Tuesday, then as sure as the sun rises from the east, the impeachment process will kick in,” said Innocent Gonese of the rival MDC-T party.
ZANU-PF’s Central Committee expelled several other high-level politicians close to Grace Mugabe on Sunday, including minister of higher education Jonathan Moyo and finance minister Ignatious Chombo. About 200 delegates clapped and cheered the dismissals and also chanted of the president: “He must go!”
But Mugabe was still respected in some circles in Zimbabwe, particularly war veterans, for the role he played in liberating the country from white rule.
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