Members of Canada's Zimbabwean community hope Harare turmoil brings change

An armed soldier patrols a street in Harare, Zimbabwe, Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017. Canadians in Zimbabwe were being advised Wednesday to stay indoors in the capital city of Harare due to political turmoil in the African nation. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP Photo

Members of Canada's Zimbabwean community are expressing hope that political turmoil unfolding in their homeland will bring lasting change after longtime president Robert Mugabe was placed under house arrest by the country's military leaders.

Zimbabwe's army said it had taken Mugabe and his wife into custody and was securing government offices in the capital of Harare following a night of unrest that included a military takeover of the state broadcaster.

The activity triggered speculation of a coup, as soldiers and armoured vehicles filled the streets. But the army insisted it was only targeting "criminals" in Mugabe's inner circle in an attempt to restore democracy. The army's supporters praised the actions as a "bloodless correction."

In Canada, members of the Zimbabwean community said they hoped the events signalled what could be the start of a new era.

"This is going to change a lot of things," said Regis Musango, chair of the Zimbabwe Cultural Society of Alberta. "The (2018) Zimbabwe elections will happen in a peaceful and democratic way, and you are going to have the leader people want. There is no imposition of leadership (anymore)."

The 93-year-old Mugabe, the world's oldest head of state, has been in power since Zimbabwe gained its independence in 1980. He has long been accused of human rights abuses, including crackdowns on dissent, while Zimbabwe's economy has suffered amid massive inflation and international sanctions.

The latest developments had some Zimbabwean-Canadians wondering whether a new government could take over and open up international trade.

"I made a trip back to Zimbabwe this year after 17 years and it was sad to see the way the country had deteriorated," said Belinda Fernandez, a Toronto resident who was born in Zimbabwe. "Once-posh areas have become high-density areas with the smell of sewage in the air in parts of Harare."

Staggering wealth inequality has frustrated Zimbabweans who have watched rich Mugabe supporters drive Rolls Royces and Bentleys, while the country's hospitals, schools and roads deteriorate, said Remedzai Kawadza, secretary of the Zimbabwe United Methodist Church in Toronto.

"We are tired of having the same leader of 37 years misruling the country," Kawadza said. "We cannot have the same family (in charge) forever. We are done with this."

Mugabe's arrest follows the firing last week of vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa — a situation that appeared to leave Mugabe's wife poised to take over the position. But the 52-year-old first lady is unpopular among many Zimbabweans for her lavish spending on mansions, cars and jewels.

The latest military action is the "dawning of a new era" for Zimbabweans and Zimbabwean immigrants, many of whom left home because of economic hardship, said Edmonton resident Munya Madzinga.

"This is what Zimbabwe needed: Somebody to step up," Madzinga said.

But some still worried change will not come easily.

The military could install another member of the old political elite who, like Mugabe and even Mnangagwa, prioritizes the interests of the wealthy, Kawadza said.

"It's just the flip side of the coin, the same (type of) people with the same habits," Kawadza said. "There will be no freedom until that generation's culture and behaviour is gone."

Global Affairs Canada has advised Canadians in the Zimbabwe capital of Harare to stay indoors and monitor the media as events unfold.

— With files from The Associated Press

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