On the morning of Nov. 15, residents of Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital city, awoke to find the downtown streets full of armored vehicles. On a TV broadcast, Zimbabwean military leaders announced that the army had taken control of the capital and placed 93-year-old President Mugabe under house arrest.
While civilians were still allowed to go about their business as they usually would, the streets were abnormally quiet as people waited to see what would happen next.
Three days later, citizens saw that change really was taking place, and the streets of Harare and Bulawayo, another major city in Zimbabwe, came alive with citizens waving flags, cheering, dancing and holding signs that demanded Mugabe resign after his 37 years in office.
“The freedom march they had a few days ago in the capital, and in my home city, produced images and videos of people coming together, of all races, and classes. That, to me, is a rare sight for the most part. I have not seen so many people of different backgrounds standing for the same thing together in a long time,” said Rachael Ngwarai, an ORU senior from Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.
Mugabe became president in 1987, after the country gained independence from Great Britian who had colonized the area (then called Rhodesia) for over a century. He has maintained power until now, watching the once-prosperous “breadbasket of Africa” slide into economic ruin as he and his wife, nicknamed “Gucci Grace,” lived lavishly and continued to rule the technically democratic country with a tight grip.
“I remember one time we had elections, and people were really preparing to see a new president come into power. We were all convinced we were going to see the opposition win that election. But, of course, it was rigged, and Mugabe won that election,” said Ngwarai.
Zimbabwe Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa was slated to take power next but was suddenly fired about a week before the military takeover began. This act was seen as an attempt to ensure Grace Mugabe’s position as next in line for leadership of the country.
Commander of the Zimbabwe Defense Forces and ally of the vice president, General Constantino Chiwenga then took matters into his own hands, along with other leaders of the president’s political party, ZANU-PF. They arrested leaders around Mugabe, removed him as leader of the party and demanded that he resign by Monday or be impeached by Parliament.
“The way the military took over the situation was unbelievably peaceful, which makes it evident that even they are in this for a better Zimbabwe,” said Ngwarai.
Tuesday morning after the deadline passed, Mugabe addressed the nation with a speech that said very little except that he refused to resign.
“People are pumped to see Mugabe step down from power. We know it will not turn everything over in an instant, but it will change some things. Mnangagwa is not everyone’s choice for president, but he is a better choice. It’s almost like a Clinton vs Trump situation, except one of them has been in office for way too long. We all want to see change happen in Zimbabwe, and we (both in and outside Zimbabwe) believe it will start when Mugabe leaves office,” said Ngwarai. “This has been exciting and hard to watch from the other side of the world. My heart is out there with my family, friends and fellow Zimbabweans.”