Key players in Zimbabwe's political crisis

A lot has happened in the past few days in Zimbabwe, where the world’s oldest head of state tries to remain in power even under military house arrest. Thousands of giddy Zimbabweans have poured in the streets to demand his departure, tired of a collapsing economy that once was one of Africa’s strongest. Here’s a quick guide to the key events and players:

Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwe Mugabe

Robert Mugabe seemed almost untouchable for much of his nearly four-decade rule. Shrewd and ruthless, he managed to stay in power despite advancing age, growing opposition, international sanctions and the dissolving economy of a once-prosperous African nation. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press)

The 93-year-old President Robert Mugabe has been under house arrest since Tuesday, when the military moved in. That decision was sparked by Mugabe’s firing of his longtime deputy, leading to fears that the president was positioning his unpopular wife, Grace, to succeed him. Mugabe is said to be asking for more time amid negotiations on his departure. The military has been taking pains to refer to him as president and allowed him to make a public appearance Friday at a graduation ceremony, where he received polite applause.

The military

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A Zimbabwean Defence Force soldier salutes a citizen on Saturday during a march to demand that Zimbabwe’s 93-year-old president step down after 37 years in power. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Zimbabwe’s army commander on Monday threatened to “step in” after Mugabe fired Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, and the next day he did. In an extraordinary image on Thursday, state-run media published photos of Gen. Constantino Chiwenga shaking hands with a smiling Mugabe at the State House as negotiations with regional leaders continued. They were meeting again on Sunday. The military is trying not to project the image of a coup, which could bring regional sanctions and further harm the country’s standing with international investors.

The ruling party

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Delegates celebrate after Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe was dismissed as party leader at an extraordinary meeting of the ruling ZANU-PF’s central committee in Harare on Sunday. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters )

To cheers and singing, members of the ruling ZANU-PF party’s Central Committee began an emergency meeting Sunday to recall Mugabe as party leader. They also want the first lady recalled and the fired Mnangagwa reinstated. The ruling party also could press for impeachment when Parliament resumes Tuesday.

The people

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Protesters calling for Robert Mugabe to step down cheer in front of a military vehicle in Harare on Saturday. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters )

Several thousand people were in the streets of the capital, Harare, on Saturday to demand Mugabe’s exit as Zimbabweans giddily explore the rare freedom of expression amid the political limbo. The demonstration was approved by the military and had participation from across the political spectrum, from Mugabe’s once-staunch loyalists among the liberation war veterans to opposition activists long-used to police crackdowns. State-run media covered the events with headlines like “MugabeMustGo!”

The next leaders?

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Emmerson Mnangagwa’s dismissal as vice president last week sparked the military’s takeover. On Sunday, the ruling ZANU-PF appointed him as party leader, ousting President Robert Mugabe. (Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images)

Mnangagwa fled the country shortly after his firing by Mugabe and his whereabouts are unknown. He is expected to lead any new government, and his supporters say he will make a public appearance once arrangements for Mugabe’s exit are complete. High-profile opposition leaders such as Morgan Tsvangiari, who shared power with Mugabe between 2009 and 2013 before losing disputed elections, are expected to play a role in a new government, but they have said they have not been contacted by those taking part in the Mugabe negotiations.

The first lady

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There were fears Robert Mugabe was positioning his unpopular wife, Grace, to succeed him. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

Grace Mugabe has been out of the picture, literally, since the military stepped in. Once ever-present at her husband’s side at public events, she has not been seen in days. The quick-tempered first lady, deeply unpopular among Zimbabweans for her lavish spending, did not accompany the president Friday and was not pictured in photographs of State House negotiations. Despite rumours that she has fled the country, she is thought to remain under house arrest. In one example of Zimbabweans’ anger at the idea of her becoming their next president, one sign at Saturday’s massive demonstration read: “Leadership is not sexually transmitted.”

The national executive of the Youth League in Zimbabwe on Sunday blamed Grace Mugabe’s political ambitions for her husband’s downfall and said her husband allowed her to “usurp presidential authority from him.” A spokesperson said the group will not be associated with “such unruly and cunning behaviour.”

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