Zimbabweans were weighing an uncertain future without President Robert Mugabe Thursday after the army took power and placed the 93-year-old veteran, once seen as a liberation hero, under house arrest.
Most people in the country have not known a time without Mugabe, who has been at the epicentre of public life since coming to power in 1980 on the country's independence from Britain.
The nation was left stunned after the ailing leader was confined to his residence late Tuesday as soldiers took up positions at strategic points across Harare and senior officers commandeered state television.
The Southern African Development Community bloc, currently chaired by Zimbabwe's powerhouse neighbour South Africa, was to meet in Botswana later Thursday to discuss the dramatic situation.
And though nothing has been heard from Mugabe or his wife Grace directly since the start of the army operation, many Zimbabweans are hopeful that the crisis will mark the beginning of a more prosperous future.
"Our economic situation has deteriorated every day -- no employment, no jobs," Tafadzwa Masango, a 35-year-old unemployed man, told AFP.
"We hope for a better Zimbabwe after the Mugabe era. We feel very happy. It is now his time to go."
Harare's residents have largely ignored the military presence on the streets and continued commuting, socialising and working much as normal, while analysts speculated that Mugabe and the army could be negotiating a transition.
- 'The demise of Robert' -
Derek Matyszak, an analyst at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said he expects Mugabe and the military are thrashing out a handover to a new head of state.
"I think Mugabe can still stay in the country. I think they would like to present him as a liberation icon and accord him due respect.