Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe has baffled the country by making an address on national television without announcing his resignation – setting the stage for him to be impeached.

The Central Committee of ruling party Zanu-PF had hours earlier told him to resign as president by noon on Monday or face impeachment proceedings the following day.

After the speech, its chief whip said: “I don’t see us failing to proceed with the impeachment.”

Lovemore Matuke said: “The Central Committee decision stands until I am advised otherwise.”

He added that “the speech was just surprising”.

He said: “It is not in line with what we expected. We had understood that his resignation was coming to avoid the embarrassment of impeachment.

“The army is taking its own route, and as politicians we are taking our own route, but the ultimate goal is to make sure he goes, which he should have done tonight.”

Mugabe during the address Mugabe during the address (AP)

Zimbabweans had gathered in expectation of a celebration. Instead, Mugabe appeared to hint at challenging the ruling party, which has expelled him as its leader, by trying to stay on.

He made a reference to presiding over a party congress next month.

“The congress is due in a few weeks from now. I will preside over its processes, which must not be possessed by any acts calculated to undermine it or compromise the outcomes in the eyes of the public,” he said.

Officials close to the talks between Mugabe and the military had said the president would resign.

A crowd of thousands of protesters demanding President Robert Mugabe stands down gather behind an army cordon on the road leading to State House in HarareThousands took to the streets calling for Mugabe to go (Ben Curtis/AP)

Mugabe noted the political turmoil that led to his military house arrest and expulsion as ruling party leader.

“From tonight … the nation at all levels gets refocused,” he said.

He said that “failures of the past” may have triggered anger in some quarters, which he calls “quite understandable”.

He also notes that “intergenerational conflict must be resolved”, a reference to his apparent positioning of his unpopular 52-year-old wife to succeed him.

Zimbabweans watch the televised addressZimbabweans watch the televised address (Ben Curtis/AP)

Mugabe is 93 and had been backed by fellow veterans of the country’s liberation war, until they turned against him.

Zimbabweans have said they feel profoundly disappointed that Mugabe is resisting pressure to step aside.

Victor Matemadanda, secretary general of the country’s war veterans association, said he feels betrayed.

He said: “He is playing games with the people of Zimbabwe. He agrees to go and then plays games with us like that at the last minute.”

Mr Matemadanda said the war veterans will again rally the people to protest, and “this time the army will let him face the people. … The army will now choose between shooting the people or protecting Mugabe”.