Robert Mugabe makes first public appearance since coup Zimbabwean President appears in academic cap and gown Comes as military says it has made ‘significant progress’ in talks Party drafting motion to fire leader on Sunday if he doesn’t quit It may prove the last public engagement in his years as head of state, and Robert Mugabe was clearly not enjoying himself on Friday morning. Dour and preoccupied, the 93-year-old president could hardly raise a smile as scholars, joyful at their graduation, walked up and bobbed their heads in respect. Mr Mugabe is chancellor of most of Zimbabwe’s higher education institutions and being capped by the ageing president, who is usually cracking jokes and full of beans, is often a highlight of graduation ceremonies. But Friday’s ceremony for mature and postgraduate students at the Open University, alongside the sprawling suburb of Hatcliffe, 15 miles north of Harare, was different. Mr Mugabe has been under house arrest since Tuesday night, when the military turned on him in an attempt to force him to step down. This was his first public appearance since, and both he and his captors seemed determined to put on as much a veneer of normality as possible. Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe arrives to preside over a student graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare Credit: AP As usual, the police band was there in honour of the head of state, and there was a crowd of thousands – though whether they had turned out for the president or their relatives was hard to tell. And when Mr Mugabe arrived, it was clear that he had been allowed to keep his massive security contingent of police and presidential guards. Mr Mugabe always travels with about a dozen other vehicles behind him, and all other traffic and pedestrians have to halt immediately when the wailing of his sirens is heard. If other vehicles do not stop, outriders armed with AK 47’s fire warning shots – one of many long running grievances that have contributed to his downfall. This is a university with scarce resources and not much infrastructure; the ceremony took place under a giant tent. Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe presides over a student graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare Credit: AP For the 3,000 students claiming their postgraduate degrees, it was a joyful experience. They clapped madly as each of their classmates walked on to the stage to receive their doctorate or masters degree. Throughout it all, Mr Mugabe remained seated and barely reacted to the speeches and applause. One student graduating drew particularly loud applause when her name was announced. Mary Chiwenga is the second wife of General Constantino Chiwenga, the armed forces chief who presided over Tuesday night’s coup and who is now in charge of key parts of the country. She is best known for organising the Miss Zimbabwe competition. But she did not show up for the ceremony, and a young man picked up the certificate on her behalf – sparing a potentially awkward scene. Robert Mugabe poses alongside General Constantino Chiwenga and South African envoys at the State House in Harare Credit: AFP When the cheering was over, and the choirs had completed their choruses, Mr Mugabe slowly rose to his feet, surrounded by his contingent of plainclothes security men, and very slowly walked unaided down the red carpet and out of the tent. No one was particularly interested in Mr Mugabe. All were respectful, but there was no ululating as before, no shouts of political support. He has been ruling the country for most of their lives, but the graduates were more excited about their own achievement yesterday than the dramatic political events unfolding around them. “I know about it. All will be OK as long as we have peace and tranquillity,” said Charity Kadungure, 64, who received her doctorate in finance, when asked about the military takeover. How Mugabe poisoned the breadbasket of Africa 02:51 Mrs Kadungure, who did her masters in business administration via the University of Manchester, said she was thinking of little more than retirement. “I did this doctorate to prepare for retirement. I have been at the Reserve Bank (of Zimbabwe) for 28 years and will use what I know to train others.” Pius Ncube, a 45-year-old UN aid worker from Bulawayo, who received a doctorate in disaster management, and has worked in war zones including Afghanistan and Syria, laughed when asked if Zimbabwe was in “conflict”. “This is the end for him,” he said, referring to the chancellor who had just left the ceremony. “We don’t want to see his wife again.” 10:29AM Mugabe’s appearance ‘shows how unique Zimbabwe is’ Lots of reaction on social media to Mr Mugabe’s appearance… It’s so cool that mid coup, #Mugabe takes a break to cap graduates. Not from the perspective of a new, democratic #Zimbabwe, but how it illustrates how unique Zimbabwe and her situation is. We just don’t fit into any norms— Rebuild Zimbabwe (@RebuildZimbabwe) November 17, 2017 #Zimbabwe Zimbabwean national says Pres. Mugabe is only showing at the graduation only to save his face & his influence is gone.— KhayelihleKhumalo (@KhayaJames) November 17, 2017 10:02AM Mugabe pictured at ceremony More pictures are now emerging from the surprise appearance: Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe, center, arrives to preside over a student graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare, Zimbabwe Credit: AP Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe arrives to preside over a student graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare Credit: AP Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe confers awards for the students with the leading theses, as he presides over a graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University on the outskirts of Harare Credit: AP 9:37AM Cheers as Mugabe starts his speech President Robert Mugabe has started a speech, to cheers from the crowd gathered at the graduation ceremony on the outskirts of Harare. Several thousand graduates of the Zimbabwe Open University and guests stood as Mr Mugabe and other dignitaries entered a tent set up for the event. Once on the podium, Mr Mugabe joined the crowd in singing Zimbabwe’s national anthem. He announced the opening of the graduation ceremony, and the crowd applauded. Mr Mugabe’s presidential security detail is present. President Robert Mugabe appears in an academic cap and gown Credit: Al Jazeera 9:34AM Mugabe arrives at graduation ceremony in cap and gown Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has arrived at a graduation ceremony at Harare’s Open University wearing a blue and yellow academic gown and cap. He has stood for the national anthem. This is Mr Mugabe’s first public appearance since the military seized control of Zimbabwe earlier this week. Friday’s event appears to allow the 93-year-old president to project the image of leadership, even as calls for his departure grow stronger. There has been speculation that he could use the ceremony, which was a scheduled event for Mr Mugabe, to make an announcement about negotiations over his future. Stay with us for live updates.