Mugabe makes first public appearance since military takeover

President Robert Mugabe attended a university graduation ceremony on Friday, making his first public appearance since military generals took control of Zimbabwe earlier this week.

Wearing a blue and yellow academic gown and mortar board hat, the 93-year-old sat in large wooden chair at the front the hall. He was greeted by ululations from the crowd as he declared the ceremony open.

The generals took over late on Tuesday after vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa was sacked and Mugabe’s wife Grace emerged in prime position to succeed her increasingly frail husband.

Zimbabwe was left stunned by the military intervention sparked by the bitter succession battle between Grace and Mnangagwa, 75.

Analysts say the military leadership was strongly opposed to Grace’s rise, while Mnangagwa has close ties to the defence establishment.

Mugabe and the army chiefs held talks on Friday as the takeover appeared to signal his imminent exit from office after 37 years in power since Zimbabwe won independence from Britain in 1980.

Mnangagwa, who is a leading candidate to succeed Mugabe, flew back to Harare on Thursday after fleeing the country when he was sacked last week.

Mugabe, who at 93 has appeared increasingly frail in public, is insisting he remains Zimbabwe’s only legitimate ruler and is refusing to quit. But pressure was mounting on the former guerrilla to accept offers of a graceful exit, political sources said.

The army’s takeover signaled the collapse in less than 36 hours of the security, intelligence and patronage networks that sustained Mugabe through almost four decades in power and built him into the “Grand Old Man” of African politics.

Once a regional breadbasket, Zimbabwe saw its economy collapse after the seizure of white-owned farms in the early 2000s, followed by runaway money-printing that catapulted inflation to 500 billion percent in 2008.

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