It took a military takeover, nearly a week of negotiations, and ultimately, the launch of impeachment proceedings, but Robert Mugabe has finally resigned as Zimbabwe’s president after 37 years.
The news that the 93-year-old had decided to step down, after stubbornly refusing to budge for six days, sparked scenes of jubilation after Jacob Mudenda, the speaker of Zimbabwe’s parliament, made the announcement Tuesday. Lawmakers who had gathered to impeach Mugabe broke out into loud cheers in parliament, while the streets of Harare erupted in celebration, with large crowds cheering, dancing, and waving national flags.
Mugabe’s resignation letter said he had made the decision voluntarily, to allow a smooth transition of power. The unexpected announcement interrupted impeachment proceedings that had been launched by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party earlier Tuesday, in a final push to legally oust him from office.
Mugabe had been defiantly refusing to stand down since the military took over last Wednesday. Despite having been held under house arrest, sacked by his party and given an ultimatum to resign by Monday or face impeachment, Mugabe had clung on – even veering off-script in a televised speech under the generals’ supervision in which he had been expected to quit.
Ultimately, though, he saw the writing on the wall. His decision to stand down brings marks the end of an era in Zimbabwe, which has known only one ruler since it gained independence in 1980.
Mugabe is almost certain to be succeeded by Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former vice president who was named ZANU-PF’s new leader when they sacked Mugabe on Sunday. Mugabe’s sacking of his former deputy last month – amid Mnangagwa’s power struggle with Mugabe’s wife Grace – sparked the political turmoil that eventually prompted the army to step in last week.