Robert Mugabe resigns as president of Zimbabwe

Jubilation after controversial leader’s 37-year rule ends, a week after military takeover

Wild celebrations in parliament after controversial leader’s 37-year rule comes to an end

 

Robert Mugabe has resigned as president of Zimbabwe with immediate effect after 37 years in power, the speaker of the country’s parliament has said. The announcement came during a hearing to impeach Mugabe, and launches the nation into a new era as uncertain as it is hopeful.

The move caps an astonishing eight-day crisis that started when the military took over last week in order to block the rise to power of Mugabe’s wife and her faction within the ruling Zanu-PF party, and then developed into a popular revolt against the ageing autocrat. A letter submitted to parliament by Mugabe said his decision to resign was voluntary.

Wild jubilation broke out among MPs when the speaker, Jacob Mudenda, made the announcement, and cheers and celebrations spread through the streets of Harare. “We are elated! It’s time for new blood. I’m 36, and I’ve been waiting for this all my life. I’ve only known one leader,” said William Makombore, who works in finance. Munyaradzi Chisango, celebrating nearby, said: “I’m 35, and I have children. I was born under Mugabe, and they were born under him. This is going to put Zimbabwe back on the map.”

Mugabe resigns: Zimbabwean politicians celebrate in parliament in Harare. Photograph: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty
Mugabe resigns: Zimbabwean politicians celebrate in parliament in Harare. Photograph: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty

Guerilla turned dictator

Impeachment proceedings against the 93-year-old president began earlier on Tuesday as Zanu-PF attempted to remove him from office. Thousands of Zimbabweans had turned up outside parliament to urge on MPs, chanting, dancing and waving placards in Africa Unity Square. Although some still consider the former guerrilla a hero of the liberation struggle, many more reviled Mugabe as a dictator prepared to sacrifice the economic wellbeing of 13 million people to remain in power.

By the end few options were open to Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe through a mixture of coercion, bribery and revolutionary rhetoric. Support in some branches of the security establishment, such as the police, had evaporated.

His fall will reverberate across a continent where hundreds of millions still suffer the authoritarian excesses of rapacious, ruthless rulers, are denied justice by corrupt or incompetent officials, and struggle to hold even elected governments to account.

Mugabe resigns: Zimbabweans celebrate in Harare. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters
Mugabe resigns: Zimbabweans celebrate in Harare. Photograph: Mike Hutchings/Reuters

Fired vice-president

The way is now clear for Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president whom Mugabe fired 13 days ago, to take power. He was appointed interim leader of Zanu-PF at the meeting on Sunday. The military has said it has no intention of staying in power, and according to the constitution Mnangagwa, as vice-president, should now take the place of Mugabe as head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

Shortly before legislators met, Mnangagwa broke more than a week of silence to add his voice to those calling for the ageing leader to step down. Until recently Mugabe’s vice-president and right-hand man, Mnangagwa, who is 75, is a veteran of Zimbabwe’s liberation wars and a former spy chief who has close relations with the commanders who led the takeover.

Opposition leaders in Zimbabwe have called for the formation of an inclusive transitional government but risk being sidelined by the powerful army and Zanu-PF.

Mugabe resigns: Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa with the Zimbabwean president in 2014. Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
Mugabe resigns: Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa with the Zimbabwean president in 2014. Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

Mugabe has been under house arrest and key allies of his wife, Grace, have been removed from power since the military took charge.

Zanu-PF party, which at the weekend voted to make Mnangagwa its leader and demote Mugabe to a rank-and-file member, introduced the motion to impeach, and the opposition seconded it. Mugabe had refused to resign until the impeachment proceedings were underway.

The case for impeachment against Mugabe focused heavily on his age and on the machinations of his wife, for “usurping constitutional power”, leaving as much dignity as possible for a man who is still respected as a hero of the liberation struggle against colonial rule.

Mnangagwa had said in a written statement released on Tuesday morning that he backed impeachment as an “ultimate expression of the will of the people outside an election.” He had fled into exile earlier this month after being ousted from his position in government and Zanu-PF by a faction allied to Grace Mugabe. His supporters are widely believed to be behind the coup.

Zimbabwe’s fragmented opposition will be hoping for an early commitment from any new ruler that they will be included in government and that polls will be held unless they agree otherwise. Elections are due by August next year, but it is unclear whether they will go ahead.

Mugabe resigns: the Zimbabwean president with his wife, Grace, during the country’s 37th Independence Day celebrations, in April. Photograph: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty
Mugabe resigns: the Zimbabwean president with his wife, Grace, during the country’s 37th Independence Day celebrations, in April. Photograph: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty

Fate of Grace Mugabe

The fate of Grace Mugabe, the divisive first lady, is unclear. The 52-year-old, who has not been seen since the takeover, has been held with her husband under house arrest at the presidential residence in the upscale Borrowdale neighbourhood of Harare since the military took over.

Along with 20 of her close associates, Grace Mugabe was expelled from Zanu-PF on Sunday morning. Since taking power, the military has arrested about a dozen senior officials and ministers. Several remain detained. The purge has effectively destroyed Grace Mugabe’s “G40” faction within the party, and underlines the degree to which Mugabe’s overthrow has been driven as much by competition for power within Zanu-PF as by popular anger at a dictatorial and corrupt regime.

Mildred Tadiwa was out on the streets with her five-month old daughter, Ivana Chizhanje, on Tuesday. “I am so excited,” she said. “My baby turns five months today, and the president has resigned. I wanted to go out and celebrate with everyone, but she is asleep, so I’ve just come out to walk around and see for myself. I’m excited for myself, my baby, the whole nation. My daughter will grow up in a better Zimbabwe.” – Guardian