ELISE HU, HOST:
Zimbabwe's political future remains uncertain after the military seized control of the country this week, forcing longtime leader Robert Mugabe into house arrest. The international community is calling for calm while regional diplomats and a Catholic priest try to mediate the crisis. To get the latest, we turn to NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton. Ofeibea, it's been nearly two days now since the military seized power. So what can you tell us about the mediation efforts?
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, BYLINE: South Africa is the main mediator, and that's because South Africa is the current head of the Southern African Development Community. President Zuma knows President Mugabe very well. He was the first person to speak to President Mugabe after the military takeover. And I say President Mugabe because everybody is still referring to him as commander in chief and head of state.
Now, there was lots of talk that everybody was expecting that President Mugabe would graciously retire today. That has not happened. So we don't know the depth of the negotiations. But obviously somebody is holding out - one side or the other. That's as far as we've got so far.
HU: What's the mood of Zimbabweans? What are you hearing?
QUIST-ARCTON: You know, life is going on in Harare. It has been a bloodless military takeover or coup. I mean, this is a palace coup. But people, because of the uncertainty - and let me give you the context. This is a country that has been in an economic nosedive for how many years now? So Zimbabweans have very many concerns about the basics - electricity, how they're going to pay fees, how their children are going to school.
And suddenly the man that they have known for 37 years, Mugabe - most children only know - most young people only know Robert Mugabe. Suddenly he's under house arrest, and there's a big question mark over what the future of the country will be. So people are jittery. But things are calm, we're told.
HU: Now, this crisis was provoked by a battle to succeed the 93-year-old leader. When he fired his vice president, the talk was that his wife, Grace, the first lady, wanted that job. So talk to us a little bit about this woman known as Gucci Grace.
QUIST-ARCTON: She's got quite a few names. Initially, she married President Mugabe in 1996. She's 41 years his junior. And we were told that she was shopaholic. That's mainly what she did. Then suddenly she decided that she was going to be a political entity in herself, and she zoomed up the political ladder of the governing ZANU-PF Party. She's head of the Women's League.
And over the past three years since the first vice president, Joyce Kasinamunda, also a war veteran, was kicked out of the party or squeezed out of the party and lost her post - and that was after virulent attacks - verbal attacks - by Grace Mugabe. And that is exactly what has happened to Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice president who was also kicked out last week. And many people said that was because Mrs. Mugabe was ready to be elevated to the position of vice president. But many people are now saying she just went over the top. She pushed her husband. She pushed the country. She pushed ZANU-PF, the governing party. And look where this has left Zimbabwe.
HU: And there are suggestions now that that fired vice president could head an interim government. What kind of change would that look like?
QUIST-ARCTON: Big question mark, Elise, because remember; Emmerson Mnangagwa is cut from the same cloth as Robert Mugabe. They were comrades in the liberation war of independence. Emmerson Mnangagwa isn't a reformist. He is going to have to reinvent himself pretty quickly if he does become the interim leader of Zimbabwe. He's also known to be hugely politically cunning. But also, he has been allegedly brutal in the '80s - the Matabeleland massacres that President Mugabe apparently ordered. So a leopard - or actually he's called a crocodile - does not change his spots overnight. We'll just have to see.
HU: That's NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in Johannesburg, South Africa. Thank you, Ofeibea.
QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Thank you, Elise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.