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Story highlights

In recent years Zimbabwe has been gripped by poverty, drought and an economy in the gutter

Feelings about President Mugabe -- the "old man" -- are more ambivalent these days than before

(CNN) —  

The capital may be where Zimbabwe’s political drama is playing out, but beyond the city limits, communities of traditional Mugabe supporters are coming to terms with its implications.

CNN traveled to rural areas just outside Harare, areas that were previously strongholds of Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, the ruling party born out of the struggle for liberation from white rule in the 1970s.

Because of its connection to the country’s liberation, the party’s ideology is deeply ingrained in many people’s heads and hearts. Through the decades, voters mainly in rural areas have bought in to the ruling party’s vision, mostly sold to them as a Zimbabwe for all, with education and land rights at the fore. But for years ZANU-PF has been notorious for cracking down on – and defeating – any real opposition to maintain Mugabe’s grip on power.

Domboshawa, a village on the outskirts of Harare.
Dominique Van Heerden/CNN
Domboshawa, a village on the outskirts of Harare.

Most people we spoke to accepted the army takeover that has almost – but not quite yet – put an end to the 37-year rule of President Mugabe. Some even said it might be an opportunity for a new start.

The atmosphere was not one of jubilation – more resigned acceptance. Mugabe was once a liberation hero, but in recent years the country has been gripped by poverty, drought and an economy in the gutter. Feelings about the “old man” are more ambivalent these days.

Many Zimbabweans prefer not to give their full or real names – hardly surprising in a country where people are afraid to have an opinion. In the rural area of Domboshawa, Andrew, 53, says he’s been chatting with friends and neighbors about what has become of Mugabe and his wife Grace, who hasn’t been seen since the apparent coup. He likens their mood to a family bereavement: “It’s as if their mother and father have died,” he says.

Andrew says he hasn’t voted for ZANU-PF “in a long time,” and that he thinks people here are finally realizing President Mugabe cannot bring them out of their “tough lives.” After all, he says, “this is politics of bread and butter.”

Related: The Chinese connection to the Zimbabwe ‘coup’

In easier times, Domboshawa would have been teeming with tourists visiting ancient rock paintings found in caves nearby and families would climb the vast, sheer granite rocks that surround the area. The tourists have long stopped coming. Youths loiter around local bars as children return home from school. The young, so far removed from Mugabe’s revolution and the past, want more.

Many villagers in Domboshawa have only known one President: Mugabe.
Dominique van Heerden/CNN
Many villagers in Domboshawa have only known one President: Mugabe.

Petrus wasn’t even born when Mugabe came to power. He says he won’t miss the President if he goes. “It’s too difficult,” he explains.

Standing beside him, his friend Norbert agrees saying they’re “suffering,” but “are afraid to talk about those things… we are listening about what he says, we wait for the result, what comes from it.”

On Friday, Mugabe briefly emerged from house arrest and was pushing back on a deal to replace him with an interim leader, a source told CNN. A military commander of the defense forces said the President had until Friday to change his stance before taking more drastic measures.

Further along the road we turn into another small village. Fewer people are outdoors, but we meet a man who knows well where this community’s loyalties lie – Makunde is the secretary for the ruling ZANU-PF party here. In the past he would have been the man encouraging voters to turn out for Mugabe. He’s not so sure now.

Makunde finds it hard to say what he’s thinking, and is clearly torn between his loyalty to the party, and his personal feelings about Mugabe’s reign. We ask him if he will miss his leader if he resigns. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” he replies, smiling uncomfortably.

Makunde knows it’s a game of wait and see. And for now these communities quietly get on with their lives as they wait for the army, not the “old man,” to decide what happens next.