This came as African Union (AU) chairman Alpha Condé, the president of Guinea, warned that the continental body will not support a military coup in Zimbabwe and urged the parties involved in the crisis to use constitutional means to restore order.
However, Zimbabwe’s leading opposition figures backed the military’s move to remove President Mugabe as the besieged ruler and the generals continued with their delicate negotiations for him to step down.
Multiple sources quoted by international news agencies said President Mugabe was refusing to step down, terming the action of the military as illegal and unconstitutional.
He was understood to lay claim on the legitimacy of his presidency until the elections are held next year.
A South African Foreign Affairs spokesman told foreign news agencies that President Mugabe was meeting Southern African Development Community (Sadc) envoys and Zimbabwean generals in the capital Harare.
“They are meeting with President Robert Mugabe at State House now,” he said.
Two days after the military announced that it had taken control of the government and put President Mugabe under house arrest, the situation in the city remained tense.
The 93-year-old veteran ruler, who has been confined to his private home since the early hours of Wednesday morning, left the heavily guarded residence for the first time Thursday mid morning to meet envoys of South African President Jacob Zuma, the Sadc chairman.
Details of the discussions and ongoing negotiations with the generals were not made public but indications were that no progress had been made in the attempts to ease out Zimbabwe’s only ruler since Independence from Britain in 1980.
At the heart of negotiations is a team from Zimbabwe’s four neighbouring countries, headed by the presidents of South Africa and Botswana.
President Mugabe’s former Vice-President Joice Mujuru, a leading opposition figure, and ex-Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told journalists the military takeover was inevitable.
The remarks heightened speculation that the two were ready to form a transitional government with ousted VP Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Dr Mujuru, who heads the People’s Rainbow Coalition (PRC), urged Zimbabweans to remain peaceful during the transition.
“The PRC believes that the prevailing developments require participation by all critical stakeholders beyond political actors,” she said. “There is no doubt that Zimbabwe is in need of a transitional arrangement.”
Mr Tsvangirai appeared to agree with the military that Wednesday’s events did not amount to a coup. He added that the generals had not approached him to be part of any transitional mechanism but he was willing to listen to them if engaged.
“If we are approached to negotiate such a process, we will participate,” said Mr Tsvangirai, adding that any settlement had to recognise that Zimbabwe was a constitutional democracy. “As a democrat, I always believe in the rule of law and the international community is watching.”
Away from the delicate negotiations over Zimbabwe’s political future, it remained business as usual on the streets of Harare and other cities as the military tried to ensure that peace prevailed.
Police roadblocks, which had become a common feature on the country’s roads, were not visible and civil servants were being urged to continue going to work.
Though nothing has been heard directly from President Mugabe or his wife Grace — who is said to have fled to Namibia enroute to either Malaysia or Singapore — since the start of the military operation, many Zimbabweans are hopeful that the crisis will mark the beginning of a more prosperous future for them.
In South Africa, the opposition Congress of the People (Cope) rejected calls to offer President Mugabe political asylum in the country. Such calls, led by the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) and the African Diaspora Forum (ADF), have been growing.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe’s state broadcaster interrupted normal programming to air a rare apology by Mr Kudzanai Chipanga, the ruling party Zanu-PF youth leader who denounced the military commanders last week, days before they seized power.