Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe went off script when he refused to resign the presidency during a rambling speech today, his opponents have claimed.

Sitting alongside a cadre of generals who have been keeping him under house arrest since Wednesday, the 93-year-old boldly vowed to fix problems within the ruling Zanu PF party himself rather than hand power to ousted vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Daily Mail reports.

As Zimbabweans and millions watching across the world digested the news, a tweet from party headquarters - which has been issuing statements on behalf of Mugabe's opponents since the military took power - said: "All the old man needed to do was stick to the script.

"Now we must remove him. We gave Robert Gabriel Mugabe every chance to have a dignified exit. But he is mad."

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It initially seemed like military leaders had approved Mugabe's speech, as the Zanu PF account sent out a message which read: "Don't worry, be patient. We have been kind."

But that tone changed suddenly as veterans leader Chris Mutsvangwa told journalists that plans for Mugabe's impeachment would be moving ahead as planned on Monday.

Mutsvangwa, who is a figurehead of the campaign to remove the ageing dictator, had previously given him a deadline of midday to stand aside.

"He won't last the week," a senior Zanu-PF minister told the Daily Mail.

Mutsvangwa also vowed to hold streets protests in Harare on Wednesday amid fears that events could quickly turn to violence.

In his speech from the State House, Mugabe, who was wearing a dark suit and red tie, called for his nation to "move forward".

The announcement, which the Daily Mail understands was recorded earlier today, attracted the highest viewing numbers for the national broadcaster, ZBC, since 1980 when the Zanu-PF won power.

The broadcast was delayed by technical difficulties and was preceded by a screening of Shakira's Waka Waka (This Time For Africa) song, as well as hours of revolutionary tunes on Zimbabwe's national broadcaster, ZBC.

The lyrics of one of the songs said, 'all of our problems have disappeared' in Shona, the local language. Another said: 'It was so difficult and so heavy, but because of you, God, we are here, we have conquered'.

Street celebrations, which began as news of the resignation broke, quickly broke down into a sense of despondency. The streets of Harare were deserted as Zimbabwe struggled to process the news.

There was almost no traffic on the streets and an eerie silence descended as people stayed indoors amid uncertainty about what may lie ahead.

One man, who asked not to be named, told the Daily Mail: "My dreams have all died. We are returning to a life of fear".

Residents were concerned that the police, which had been withdrawn by the army, would return to the streets and start to enforce Mugabe's repressive controls once again.

The speech came after the Daily Mail revealed that the elderly dictator was in a state of psychological collapse, crying for his dead son and late first wife, refusing to speak or wash and staging a desperate hunger strike.

Ahead of his meeting with army officials to discuss his exit, Mugabe was 'wailing profusely' and saying that he wished he could speak to his dead wife, Sally Mugabe, and his late son, Michael Nhamodzenyika, who died from cerebral malaria in 1966 at the age of three.

"He spends most of his time looking at an old photograph of Sally. It is terrible," the aide said of Mugabe's first wife, who died of kidney failure in 1992.

In 1996, Mugabe went on to marry his current wife, 'Gucci' Grace, who was also expelled from her role as head of the Zanu-PF Women's League 'forever'.

The frail dictator has been staging a hunger strike over his confinement in house arrest and is refusing to take regular baths or speak, the aide added.

The only person who has managed to get through to him was the Catholic cleric Father Fidelis Mukonori, who is mediating between Mugabe and the generals, the aide added.

Images of the meeting showed Mugabe, who wore a black suit, white shirt and red tie, with his hand to his head and deep in conversation with senior security officials, including army chief Constantino Chiwenga who led the military takeover earlier this week.

'President Robert Mugabe this afternoon met with Zimbabwe Defence Forces Generals at State House,' the Herald said on its Twitter feed, accompanied by photographs.

Impeaching the president is the next step when Parliament resumes, and lawmakers will 'definitely' put the process in motion, the main opposition's parliamentary chief whip told The Associated Press.

Article 96 of Zimbabwe's constitution says that the president can resign if they submit a letter to the parliament speaker who must publicly announce it within 24 hours.

Resignation would be the fastest, simplest and least risky way for Mugabe to leave power - but he has resisted calls to step down since the crisis began.

During his first meeting on Thursday with the army general who led the military takeover, he bluntly refused to step aside.

Mugabe was surrounded by generals as he delivered the address, in which he promised to hold a party conference to resolve tensions, and vowed to preside over it himself. Photo / AP
Mugabe was surrounded by generals as he delivered the address, in which he promised to hold a party conference to resolve tensions, and vowed to preside over it himself. Photo / AP

News of Mugabe's removal comes as the Daily Mail exclusively revealed that the elderly dictator had gone on hunger strike. One of his close family members confirmed that he was refusing to eat as a strategic ploy.

The frail 93-year-old Mugabe has not accepted any food since Saturday, the source revealed, as he continues to be held under house arrest at his Blue Roof mansion.

Mugabe's nephew Patrick Zhuwao said on Saturday that Mugabe was 'willing to die for what is correct'.

A Zanu-PF minister confirmed to the Daily Mail that Mugabe is also refusing to speak as part of his days-long protest.

'The old man has been trying a lot of various tricks since last night,' the minister, who asked not to be named, said. 'Hunger strikes, making threats and refusing to talk.'

Leader of Zimbabwe's war veterans association Christopher Mutsvangwa said Mugabe should just resign from his role as president and leave the country.

'We are going all the way,' Mutsvangwa, who has led the campaign to oust Zimbabwe's ruler of the last 37 years, said. 'He's trying to bargain for a dignified exit but he should just smell the coffee.'

A day after huge crowds rallied peacefully in Harare for the 93-year-old Mugabe to go, members of Zanu-PF's Central Committee stood, cheered and began to sing as the process of recalling Mugabe began. Meeting chair Obert Mpofu referred to Mugabe as 'outgoing president'.

Zimbabweans watch President Robert Mugabe delivering his speech. Photo / AP
Zimbabweans watch President Robert Mugabe delivering his speech. Photo / AP

The meeting also was replacing Mugabe as party head with the vice president whose firing nearly two weeks ago led the military to step in, and recalling 'forever' the unpopular first lady as head of the women's league.

Mnangagwa, who was fired by Mugabe two weeks ago, is expected to lead a new government. Without the military's intervention, first lady Grace Mugabe likely would have replaced him as vice president and been in a position to succeed her husband.

One of Mnangagwa's top aides told the Daily Mail that Mugabe was "like a bitter wife whose husband has filed divorce papers".

Speaking outside the Zanu-PF committee meeting, he said: "Mugabe is not a problem for us now. He has no power. We are divorcing him and he's getting zero alimony."

The aide, who asked not to be named, added: "Whether he resigns today or tomorrow, he's finished. We engineered everything very well and it went very smoothly."

Mnangagwa, who has just been appointed leader of Zanu-PF, is widely expected to become president when the 93-year-old Mugabe is finally deposed.

The new leader's cousin, Lucky Kunene, told the Daily Mail that when power has been fully transferred, Zimbabwe will 'change from dictatorship to freedom'.

"My cousin is feeling happy and satisfied that justice has been done,' he said. 'He has always been ready to serve Zimbabwe but the people have not been ready to accept him. That has all changed now."

He pointed out that Mnangagwa was the architect of Zimbabwe's security apparatus and judicial system that brought down crime levels.

"He is from the progressive side of Zanu-PF and this is what our country needs,' the cousin said. 'He has lost elections twice and never questioned the result. He has shown that he respects democracy and the rule of law."

Disappointed Zimbabweans discuss their shock as the credits roll at the end of a televised address to the nation by President Robert Mugabe. Photo / AP
Disappointed Zimbabweans discuss their shock as the credits roll at the end of a televised address to the nation by President Robert Mugabe. Photo / AP

Kunene added: "My cousin places the economy first, not his own power. When he takes over, it will finally be the fulfilment of the people's wishes for black empowerment, economic prosperity and democracy."

Mnangagwa's aide added: "My only fear was that the fury of our people would be uncontrollable. But they were so magnanimous".

'We felt like taking over the old man's home and smashing it up, but instead we sang and danced.'

During today's meeting, chairman Obert Mpofu told the committee that they were meeting with 'a heavy heart' because Mugabe had served the country and contributed 'many memorable achievements'.

But Mpofu said in his opening remarks that Mugabe's wife 'and close associates have taken advantage of his frail condition' to loot national resources.

The army threatened to let a mob lynch Mugabe if he didn't stand down, the Daily Mail revealed on Saturday. Now Mugabe has responded by rejecting all food.

'If he dies under military custody, even by natural causes, then the army will be held responsible by the international community,' the family member, who asked not to be named, said. 'That is how the president is trying to put pressure on the army.'

The family member also said that Grace Mugabe was by her husband's side at the Blue Roof mansion yesterday, and is thought to still be there today.

The meeting follows rumours that the dictator had fled the country after hundreds of thousands took to the streets to protest against his rule.

Video footage from protests obtained exclusively by the Daily Mail showed angry crowds tearing down a huge billboard of Mugabe outside the headquarters of the ruling Zanu-PF party in central Harare.

The footage shows dramatic scenes that would have been unthinkable just a few days ago.

While Mugabe has been removed as party leader, his title as president of Zimbabwe remains.

He can only be removed from his presidency through resignation or impeachment, launched through a constitutional process.

'What is left is just the technical detail of how he's going to leave,' former Zimbabwean finance minister Tendai Biti told Sky News. 'Even if Zanu-PF does remove him - if they do have the power, which i doubt - that doesn't amount to removing him as president of the country.

'There has to be formal processes - either his own resignation or an impeachment.'

A Zimbabwean ruling party member said there could be prosecutions of members of a party faction close Mugabe's wife.

Lawmaker Emmanuel Fundira also said he thinks it is a 'fait accompli' that recently fired Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa will be reinstated and chosen to lead Zimbabwe after Mugabe's expected resignation.

Fundira said that 'corrupt and rotten' leaders in the ruling party should be punished.

'There are some resources which have been taken away from this country,' Fundira says. 'Naturally, the laws will follow up and make sure that all those people are brought to book.'

Mugabe's talks with army commander Constantino Chiwenga today were the second round of negotiations on an exit with a veneer of dignity as the military tries to avoid accusations of a coup.

Graffiti in support of the ruling ZANU PF party on a building in Harare. Photo / AP
Graffiti in support of the ruling ZANU PF party on a building in Harare. Photo / AP

Zimbabwean officials have not revealed details of the talks, but the military appears to favour a voluntary resignation by Mugabe to maintain a veneer of legality in the political transition.

Mugabe, in turn, could be using whatever leverage he has left to try to preserve his legacy as one of Africa's liberation leaders or even protect himself and his family from possible prosecution.

Zanu-PF moved forward with the process of formally expelling Mugabe from the party after all ten of Zimbabwe's provinces passed no-confidence motions against him on Friday.

Today's talks did not appear to include the South African government delegation that took part in the first round. South Africa's president on Saturday said talks are in 'early days'.

The southern African regional bloc will hold a four-country summit in Angola on Tuesday to discuss the Zimbabwe situation.

Innocent Gonese with the MDC-T party said they had been in discussions with the ruling ZANU-PF party to act jointly.

Gonese said of the talks: 'If Mugabe is not gone by Tuesday, then as sure as the sun rises from the east, impeachment process will kick in.'

The MDC-T has unsuccessfully tried to impeach Mugabe in the past, but now the ruling party has turned against him.

Ahead of today's meetings, the youth league of Zanu-PF called for Mugabe to resign and take a rest as an 'elder statesman', while his wife, Grace, should be expelled from the party 'forever.'

Youth league leader Yeukai Simbanegavi praises the military for moving against what she describes as a group of 'criminals' led by Grace Mugabe.

'It is unfortunate that the president allowed her to usurp executive authority from him, thereby destroying both the party and the government,' Simbanegavi said at ruling party headquarters today.

The army has also brought intense pressure to bear upon the 93-year-old, threatening to stand aside and allow him to be lynched if he does not stand down soon, a senior politician told the Daily Mail.

Mutsvangwa that that he is concerned that the military could end up opening fire to protect Mugabe from protesters. He says there will be more demonstrations like the massive one Saturday if Mugabe's negotiations with the military on his departure from power don't end soon.

He hopes Mugabe 'gives into the fact that he has got to tender his resignation and leave'.

"We would expect that Mugabe would not have the prospect of the military shooting at people, trying to defend him," Mutsvangwa said. "The choice is his".

In an exclusive interview with the Daily Mail, Mutsvangwa previously revealed: "The army gave the dictator a message earlier [Saturday]. Either he steps down or they will let the people in to his mansion to take him.

"The army is threatening to unleash the people and let Mugabe be lynched. The generals said they will not shoot the people for him. Instead, they will abandon their posts and leave him to his fate."

Mutsvangwa added: "At first, the army was holding him prisoner. Now they are protecting him from the people."

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Harare on Saturday in a historic show of unity to demand an end to the 37-year reign of dictator Robert Mugabe.

Military helicopters flew low overhead as huge crowds marched into the centre of the capital city, waving Zimbabwean flags and chanting 'remove the dictator' and 'Mugabe, our country is not your property'.

It was an unprecedented show of defiance and unity in this notoriously divided country, as ordinary Zimbabweans from across the political spectrum came together as one to oppose the dictator.

Some protesters shouted 'Ngwena, Ngwena', or 'Crocodile, Crocodile', in support of sacked vice-president Emmanuel 'Crocodile' Mnangagwa, the favourite to become the next leader.

Fiery speeches were delivered at the Harare football stadium to a crowd of hundreds of thousands after a day of chaotic anti-Mugabe parades through the city.

Several speakers shouted 'Viva Zimbabwe', to prolonged cheers and singing from the crowds, mixed with blasts of music over the loudspeakers.

"Mugabe and his typist-cum-wife must go home," said Victor Matemadanda, the Secretary-General of the Powerful War Veterans' Association.

"Let's go and take back the country from the State House."

He added: 'If he's not at the State House, let's go to the Blue Roof,' referring to Mugabe's £7.5 million mansion where he is under house arrest.

Oppah Muchinguri Kashiri, the country's environment minister who was Mugabe's girlfriend in the Eighties and Nineties and has had physical fights with his wife Grace, said: "I thank you all for being resolute. Now let's remain focussed and finish what we started. Let's take Mugabe with a strong grip and remove him."

During protests Saturday, ecstatic crowds marched through central Harare, cheering and hugging soldiers, honking horns, dancing.

Demonstrators sang: "Bob, you have sold out the country, remember we are the ones who put you there and we are now removing you."

Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, meets with Defence Forces Generals in Harare at State House. Photo / AP
Zimbabwean President, Robert Mugabe, meets with Defence Forces Generals in Harare at State House. Photo / AP

Ordinary Zimbabweans said they felt like they were dreaming after the 37-year-old dictatorship crumbled before their eyes.

"It's like Christmas," said one marcher, Fred Mubay, who said Zimbabweans have been suffering for a long time.

Saturday's protest represented a turning point for the southern African state, where for four decades the public criticism of Mugabe has been met with brutal punishment and even death.

It came as Mugabe was given an ultimatum of 24 hours to resign by the powerful National Liberation War Veterans Association.

In a press conference, a spokesman for the group mocked the elderly dictator, saying: 'Mugabe has no war background. He only came to the Front once. The closest Mugabe ever was to the fighting was 400km away.'

During the dictator's rule, forced rallies were often staged to support him. By comparison, everybody attended Saturday's march of their own free will and there was not a single counter-protestor coming out in support of Mugabe.

There were fears that Saturday's event may degenerate into violence, as happened in 2013 when crowds went on the rampage in Harare after an opposition rally.

The march began in a spirit of harmony, however, and the sense of liberation from the shackles of the dictator's secret police was tangible.

Crowds gathered at football pitches close to the city centre and marched towards Freedom Square, formerly known as the Robert Mugabe Square, where a number of political leaders from all parties were to address demonstrators.

The historic rally was all the more remarkable for having been organised by Mugabe's own party, the Zanu-PF, which until Tuesday had treated the despot like a god.

'What you saw yesterday, it shows that the people have spoken,' Mordecai Makore, 71, a retired teacher told AFP after attending a morning service at the Catholic cathedral in central Harare.

'All we want is peace, a good life with a working economy that creates jobs for our people. We will continue praying for that. I want my children and grandchildren to live a normal good life.'

The majority of Zimbabweans have only known life under Mugabe's rule, which has been defined by violent suppression, economic collapse and international isolation.

Sources suggest Mugabe has been battling to delay to his exit and to secure a deal guaranteeing future protection for him and his family.

He attended a university graduation ceremony on Friday, in a show of defiance after the talks with General Constantino Chiwenga, who led the military power grab.

The factional succession race that triggered Zimbabwe's sudden crisis was between party hardliner Mnangagwa - known as the Crocodile - and a group called 'Generation 40' or 'G40' because its members are generally younger, which campaigned for Grace's cause.

'She is very acceptable. Very much accepted by the people,' Mugabe said of Grace in a faltering interview to mark his 93rd birthday last February.

The president, who is feted in parts of Africa as the continent's last surviving liberation leader serving as a head of state, is in fragile health. But he previously said he would stand in elections next year that would see him remain in power until he was nearly 100-years-old.

He became prime minister on Zimbabwe's independence from Britain in 1980 and then president in 1987.

Zimbabwe's economic output has halved since 2000 when many white-owned farms were seized, leaving the key agricultural sector in ruins.