With Mugabe's reign over, this exiled Zimbabwean journalist may finally be able to go home
Now that Robert Mugabe has stepped down as Zimbabwe's president, Wilf Mbanga says he can finally visit his mother's grave for the first time since she died 10 years ago.
"My heart is pounding. I am absolutely delighted by the result," the exiled Zimbabwean journalist told As It Happens host Carol Off after Mugabe announced his resignation on Tuesday, ending his 37-year reign.
"It has happened. He is gone."
Mbanga is a former Mugabe supporter who became critical of the president as he rose to power and lashed out at his opponents, often with deadly force.
He founded the opposition newspaper, the Daily News, which was shuttered, and then the Zimbabwean, an independent publication that often runs afoul of the Mugabe government.
The Zimbabwean's reporters, he said, have been threatened, arrested and assaulted. One of the paper's delivery trucks was firebombed in 2008. It now publishes exclusively online.
"I was followed everywhere. I was harassed and I left the country," he said.
ZANU is like a snake. It has just shed its skin, but it is still a snake.- Wilf Mbanga , journalist
He lived for awhile in the U.K., then moved to South Africa to be closer to home.
"I haven't been able to go home. I did not even go back after my mother died some 10 years ago. And I would love to go back to place some flowers on her grave and to see the rest of my family who I have not seen for 15 years."
But he hasn't bought a plane ticket home just yet. For one, there is still an arrest warrant in his name.
What's more, the ruling ZANU-PF party has selected recently fired vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa — a decades-long Mugabe enforcer with a reputation for ruthlessness — as the president's replacement.
"We're going to be very careful not to celebrate too much," Mbanga said. "ZANU is like a snake. It has just shed its skin, but it is still a snake."
Zimbabwe's polarizing first lady, Grace Mugabe, had been positioning herself to succeed her husband, leading a party faction that engineered Mnangagwa's ouster.
The prospect of a dynastic succession alarmed the military, which confined Mugabe to his home last week and targeted what it called "criminals" around him who allegedly were looting state resources.
Mugabe has insisted his resignation was voluntary, and borne out of "a desire for a smooth, non-violent transfer of power."
I just want to go home and kiss the soil, place a bouquet of flowers on my mom's grave and be among my people.- Wilf Mbanga
While the country's future remains uncertain, Mbanga sees hope in the massive public celebrations that have erupted with the news of Mugabe' resignation.
"The genie is out of the bottle. People now feel they are free. They have been demonstrating without seeking police permission as is the law at the moment. People are dancing in the street. You don't see policeman anywhere harassing people," he said.
"Now people have tasted freedom. Are they going to curtail that? I doubt it. It would take awhile for them now to contain these people."
The mood in the streets on Tuesday has only served to amplify Mbanga's homesickness.
"I just want to go home and kiss the soil, place a bouquet of flowers on my mom's grave and be among my people," he said.
— With files from Associated Press