Robert Mugabe resigned as Zimbabwe’s president on Tuesday a week after the army and his former political allies moved against him, ending four decades of rule by a man who turned from independence hero to archetypal African strongman.
The bombshell news was delivered by the parliament speaker to a special joint session of the assembly which had convened to impeach Mugabe, 93, who has dominated every aspect of Zimbabwean public life since independence in 1980. Wild celebrations broke out at a joint sitting of parliament when Speaker Jacob Mudenda announced Mugabe’s resignation and suspended the impeachment procedure.
“I Robert Gabriel Mugabe in terms of section 96 of the constitution of Zimbabwe hereby formally tender my resignation… with immediate effect,” said Mudenda, reading the letter. “My decision to resign is voluntary on my part. It arises from my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and my desire to ensure a smooth, peaceful and non-violent transfer of power that underpins national security, peace and stability.”
The resignation letter no mention of who he was leaving in charge of the country. The resignation capped an unprecedented week in which the military seized control, tens of thousands of ordinary Zimbabweans took to the streets to demand that the president go and Mugabe wrestled to remain in power. “We are just so happy that things are finally going to change,” Togo Ndhlalambi, 32, a hairdresser, said.
Some people held posters of Zimbabwean army chief General Constantino Chiwenga and former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose sacking this month triggered the military takeover that forced Mugabe to resign. Mugabe is the only leader Zimbabwe has known since a guerrilla struggle ended white-minority rule in the former Rhodesia. During his reign, he took the oncerich country to economic ruin and kept his grip on power through repression of opponents, although he styled himself as the Grand Man of African politics and kept the admiration of many people across Africa.
The army seized power after Mugabe sacked Mnangagwa, ZANUPF’s favourite to succeed him, to smooth a path to the presidency for his wife Grace, 52, known to her critics as “Gucci Grace” for her reputed fondness for luxury shopping. But Mugabe refused to resign, prompting the impeachment procedure, which would have been the only legal was to force him out.
Mnangagwa, whose whereabouts are unknown after fleeing the country in fear for his safety, is expected to take over as president. A former security chief known as The Crocodile, he was a key lieutenant to Mugabe for decades and stands accused of participating in repression against Zimbabweans who challenged the leader. Under Zimbabwe’s constitution, second Vice President Phelekezela Mphoko stands to be elevated as head of state. The majority of Zimbabweans had only known life under Mugabe’s rule, which was defined by violent suppression.