Emotion ran high in Zimbabwe on Tuesday as President Robert Mugabe resigned a week after the army and his former political allies moved to end four decades of rule by a man once feted as an independence hero who became feared as a despot.
His former Vice-President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose sacking this month prompted the military takeover that forced Mugabe out, will be sworn in as president on Wednesday or Thursday, Patrick Chinamasa, legal secretary of the ruling ZANU-PF party, told Reuters.
The 93-year-old Mugabe had clung on for a week after an army takeover, with ZANU-PF urging him to go. He finally resigned moments after parliament began an impeachment process seen as the only legal way to force him out.
Wild celebrations broke out at a joint sitting of parliament when Speaker Jacob Mudenda read out Mugabe’s brief resignation letter and suspended the impeachment procedure. Mugabe, who has been confined to his Harare residence, did not appear.
People danced and car horns blared at the news that the era of Mugabe – who had led Zimbabwe since independence in 1980 – was finally over. Some held posters of Mnangagwa and of army chief General Constantino Chiwenga.
Despite the outpouring of joy on the streets, his downfall was as much the result of in-fighting among the political elite as a popular uprising, although thousands of people rallied against him in the days after the army intervened last week.
The army seized power after Mugabe sacked Mnangagwa, ZANU-PF’s favourite to succeed him, in a bid 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.
Since the crisis began, Mugabe has been mainly confined to his “Blue Roof” mansion in the capital where Grace is also believed to be.
ZANU-PF chief whip Lovemore Matuke told Reuters that Mnangagwa would be sworn in within 48 hours and that he would serve the remainder of Mugabe’s term until the next general election, which must be held by September 2018.
“I am very happy with what has happened,” said Maria Sabawu, a supporter of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, outside the hotel where the impeachment process was happening.
“I have suffered a lot at the hands of Mugabe’s government,” she said, showing her hand with a missing finger that she said was lost in violence during a presidential run-off election between Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in 2008.
Mugabe has led Zimbabwe since a guerrilla struggle ended white-minority rule in the country formerly known as Rhodesia.
He took the once-rich country to economic ruin and kept his grip on power through repression of opponents, although he styled himself as the Grand Old Man of African Politics and retained the admiration of many people across Africa.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Zimbabweans “to maintain calm and restraint.”