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Zimbabweans Wonder What's Ahead For Mugabe And Their Country


Zimbabwe seems to be in the middle of a strange political transition. The country's military has seized power from longtime President Robert Mugabe. It looks in a lot of ways like a coup, but it has been pretty orderly.


Streets in the capital city Harare are quiet today. And Robert Mugabe has been meeting with military and religious leaders, smiling in photos. He's even appearing in public today giving a speech at a university graduation ceremony.

GREENE: And let's turn now to the capital, Harare, and journalist Jeffrey Barbee, who's on the line on Skype. Hi there, Jeffrey.


GREENE: So strange moment - does this feel like this could be a historic transition in this country? - because it sounds like it's pretty quiet so far.

BARBEE: Well, it is very quiet. But that has been the way things have been in Zimbabwe for a long time. But I think that what's important is the undercurrents here are very strong. And, in fact, I've been walking around a lot here in the capital speaking to people on the ground. And virtually, everyone's in agreement that this is a good idea, that they need some sort of change and they need it as soon as possible. In fact, I met with a lot of people. Most of them did not want me to mention their last name, and Evison (ph) was one of them.

EVISON: Since I was born, we live (unintelligible) to see such a change. The current thing, the current government, we are not happy with it, you know. We are not happy.

GREENE: Wow, that's so interesting. I mean, so is he just desperate for some kind of change or is this specifically being very unhappy with Mugabe's long rule that's gone on for more than three decades?

BARBEE: Well, I think it's probably a combination of both. I mean, here on the ground, things are pretty dire. The country doesn't have its own currency. It uses the U.S. dollar. It's struggled from sort of crisis to crisis since the collapse of the government, the unified Government of National Unity in 2008, 2009. And what we're looking at now is a bunch of people who are pretty ready for change.

GREENE: Why are so many people like that man scared to give their last name?

BARBEE: Well, I think that until Mugabe's gone and until they can see that there's a roadmap for peace ahead of them, everybody's pretty sensitive. You know, there's been a lot of reprisals against people in the past. And there's been a lot of strong-arm tactics that have been used against civil society and the civilian population.

GREENE: Well, that makes me wonder how peaceful this is going to remain. I mean, so far, it looks like the military is doing this respectfully. But if they put too much pressure on Mugabe, I mean, could we see some crackdowns?

BARBEE: Well, we don't know. And right now, we've gotten some new information that shows that the Zimbabwean Defense Force is calling people for mass action tomorrow. That's Saturday. And what they want to see is that people march for the overthrow of Mugabe in support of the ZDF. And that call has gone out on social media. And it's highly likely - and we have very good information to say that it is from the Defense Force. So they want people in the streets, finally, to march against Mugabe.

GREENE: You said the ZDF. That's the defense forces who have taken over the country, at this point, for Mugabe?

BARBEE: Yes, yes, that's correct, David. That's the Zimbabwean Defense Force. That's correct.

GREENE: OK. So something to look for tomorrow. I mean, it feels peaceful right now, but if they're going to be demonstrations on the streets, things could change.

BARBEE: Things could definitely change. And Mugabe doesn't want to go, so we'll see how it goes.

GREENE: All right, we've been talking to journalist Jeffrey Barbee, who is on the ground in Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, at a moment of uncertain political transition in that country. Jeffrey, thanks very much.

BARBEE: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.