HARARE - Zambians have mounted a demonstration against President Robert Mugabe after the nonagenarian flew to Lusaka on Friday for the expected inauguration of the country's new president, although counting of votes was still in progress last night.
Edgar Lungu, who enjoys a close relationship with Mugabe and who belongs to the late Michael Sata’s Patriotic Front ruling party was said to be leading.
What appears to have irked the opposition in the country is that Mugabe flew to Zambia even before the results of the tightly-contested polls had been announced, prompting fears that Lungu — who controversially came to see Mugabe in Harare late last year ahead of the election — may have worked with Zanu PF to rig the ballot.
As a result, hundreds of angry demonstrators — mostly supporters of the main opposition candidate, Hakainde Hichilema, of the United Party for National Development — repeatedly and animatedly chanted “Mugabe must go” slogans yesterday.
This is the one of the rare cases of Mugabe being decampaigned on the continent at such a large and public scale, as until now he has been relatively popular with youths across most of Africa for his strong pan-African rhetoric.
Mugabe flew to Zambia after spending just one day in Zimbabwe, following an unusually long and costly State-funded holiday in the Far East — where his wife Grace is still recuperating after undergoing a minor operation.
But the reception that miffed Zambians gave him was far from the normally cosy one that he routinely gets within the region — and certainly a far cry from the over-the-top welcome he got when he landed at Harare International Airport from Singapore on Thursday afternoon — where hordes of bussed in Zanu PF supporters addressed him as the “Supreme Leader”.
Well-known Al Jazeera Africa correspondent Haru Mutasa — a Zimbabwean — posted on social network Twitter that protesters in Lusaka “don’t want Zimbabwe President here, they say Mugabe must go”.
Videos of the protests were also posted on YouTube and had been accessed by thousands of people by last night.
Efforts to solicit a comment about the demonstration from Mugabe’s spokesperson, George Charamba, were unsuccessful yesterday as his mobile phone rang without being answered.
Mugabe, apart from being Sadc chairperson is also incoming African Union (AU) chair.
He was met at the Kenneth Kaunda International Airport on Friday by Zambia’s minister of Chiefs and Traditional
Affairs, Nkandu Luo, as well as Zimbabwe’s ambassador to the neighbouring country, Getrude Takawira and her deputy Marshall Matutu.
Most of the anti-Mugabe demonstration took place at the Radisson Blu Hotel in the capital Lusaka — which has been the base for the popular Hichilema in the run-up to the elections.
Lungu — who is very close to Mugabe — was reportedly heading for victory in the presidential election against Hichilema, amid strong charges of irregularities.
The Zambian elections followed the death of Sata in October 2014 in a London hospital.