Robert Mugabe has resigned as president of Zimbabwe with immediate effect after 37 years in power, ushering in a new era for a country as uncertain as it is hopeful.
The man who ruled with an autocrat’s grip for so many years finally caved to popular and political pressure hours after parliament launched proceedings to impeach him.
He had refused to leave office during an eight-day crisis that began when the military took over last week. Clinging to the formal vestiges of power, he was unable or unwilling to recognise that after so many years of political mastery, he had lost control of both his party and the country.
Mugabe, who outwitted and outlasted so many opponents during his career, had appeared determined to fight on, turning a televised address to the nation on Sunday, when he was expected to announce his own retirement, into a defiant description of future plans.
So when the parliament speaker, Jacob Mudenda, announced that Mugabe had submitted his resignation in a letter, there was wild jubilation in parliament, replicated within minutes by large crowds on the streets of Harare and in other major cities.
“I’m excited for myself, my baby, the whole nation,” said Mildred Tadiwa, who was out with her five-month old daughter. “My daughter will grow up in a better Zimbabwe.”
Zimbabweans raced up and down the wide boulevards of the capital as the sun set, honking car horns, waving flags, singing, dancing and cheering.
“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. He was waving a flag he had kept in his car since the weekend’s protests. “It’s is going to be an all-nighter.”
There were no immediate details from generals, allies or party officials about what would happen to Mugabe and his family after his resignation. Always a ruthless operator, Mugabe is certain to have negotiated hard over the conditions for his relinquishing of power.
The letter allowed him to leave office with some remaining dignity, but it also allowed the group behind his downfall to present it as a constitutional transfer of power, rather than a change of government effected at gunpoint.
The military generals moved against Mugabe due to factional struggles within the ruling Zanu-PF party, and with the support of his presumed successor Emmerson Mnangagwa, a party stalwart and liberation war veteran known as “the Crocodile”.
Mnangagwa’s firing as vice-president at the start of the month triggered the takeover and the subsequent unravelling of Mugabe’s control. The party that had bent to Mugabe’s every will for so many years was quick to turn on the 93-year-old, first evicting him from his position as party chief and then leading the impeachment drive.