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Defiant Mugabe officiates at graduation ceremony

Mr Mugabe (Centre) arrives at the Open University in Harare to officiate at a graduation ceremony. Courtesy photo.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe has made his first public appearance since the country’s army took over on Wednesday.

He attended a graduation ceremony in the capital, Harare. Mr Mugabe had been under house arrest for days.
The military said on Friday it was “engaging” with Mr Mugabe and would advise the public on the outcome of talks “as soon as possible”.

Mr Mugabe’s attendance at the graduation is an annual tradition but few expected to see him there, the BBC’s Andrew Harding reports from Zimbabwe.

Mr Mugabe walked slowly up a red carpet and joined the crowd in singing the national anthem, then opened the graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe’s Open University, where he is chancellor.

One of the people he conferred a degree upon was Marry Chiwenga, the wife of the general who detained him on Wednesday, the state broadcaster reports.

Neither the 93-year-old president’s wife, Grace Mugabe, nor Education minister Jonathan Moyo – an ally of hers whose house was reportedly raided by the military – were present.

The army acted after Mr Mugabe sacked Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa last week.

Mr Mnangagwa was seen as a potential successor and his sacking paved the way for Grace Mugabe – who is four decades younger than him – to take over the presidency instead.

It was thought she had left the country but it emerged on Thursday that she was at home with Mr Mugabe.
Bonds are hard to break

Although the army is obviously calling the shots in Zimbabwe, in public they still refer to Robert Mugabe as “his excellency, the president” and even “commander-in-chief”.

Pundits say Mr Mugabe has been allowed to attend the graduation ceremony partly to keep up the pretence that they have not staged a coup. It is also true that the army has a genuine, deeply felt respect for him going back more than 40 years.

All of Zimbabwe’s security chiefs have worked with Mr Mugabe since they fought together in the 1970s war of independence – and the bonds forged in that struggle are difficult to break.

In many ways, Zimbabwe’s military remains the armed wing of Zanu-PF, as it was when they were all rebels fighting white-minority rule in the then Rhodesia.

Furthermore, in Zimbabwean culture, the elderly are treated with respect and no-one wants to be seen to be treating a 93-year-old in an undignified manner, especially a man even opposition figures refer to as the “father of the nation”.

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