Robert Mugabe has resigned as Zimbabwe’s president, shortly after Parliament began an impeachment process to end his nearly four decades of rule.
Wild celebrations broke out at a joint sitting of Parliament when Speaker Jacob Mudenda announced Mr Mugabe’s resignation and suspended the impeachment procedure.
“My decision to resign is voluntary on my part and arises from my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and my desire for a smooth, non-violent transfer of power,” said Mr Mugabe in the letter read out in Parliament.
Thousands of Zimbabweans poured onto the streets of Harare as the capital erupted in dancing, singing, honking and cheers. Some people were holding posters of Zimbabwean army chief Constantino Chiwenga and former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose sacking this month triggered the military takeover that forced Mr Mugabe to resign.
“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.”
British Prime Minister Theresa May said the resignation gave Zimbabwe “an opportunity to forge a new path free of the oppression that characterised his rule”. Ms May said the Zimbabwean people have shown they want “free and fair elections and the opportunity to rebuild the country’s economy under a legitimate government”.
The US Embassy in Zimbabwe said it was “an historic moment” for the country and congratulated all Zimbabweans who raised their voices. “Whatever short-term arrangements the government may establish, the path forward must lead to free, fair and inclusive elections,” a statement said.
Mr Mugabe’s resignation letter made no mention of who he was leaving in charge of the country. The Speaker said he was working on legal issues to make sure a new leader was in place by the end of Wednesday.
Mnangagwa expected to take over leadership
Mr Mnangagwa, whose whereabouts is unknown after fleeing the country in fear for his safety, is seen as the most likely to take over. Emmerson Mnangagwa raises his arm with a clenched fist while speaking into a microphone.
A former security chief known as The Crocodile, he was a chief lieutenant to Mr Mugabe for decades and stands accused of participating in repression against Zimbabweans who challenged the leader.
Ruling party official party Lovemore Matuke said Mr Mnangagwa would take over as the country’s leader within 48 hours. Mr Mugabe can participate in a formal handover of power “so that Mnangagwa moves with speed to work for the country”, Mr Matuke said.
Mr Mugabe clung on for a week after the army takeover and expulsion from his own ruling ZANU-PF party, which also told him to leave power. His resignation brought an end to impeachment proceedings brought by the ruling ZANU-PF party. Earlier on Tuesday, Mr Mnangagwa said in a statement that Mr Mugabe should acknowledge the nation’s “insatiable desire” for a leadership change and resign immediately.
The origin of the 93-year-old’s sudden downfall lies in rivalry between members of Zimbabwe’s ruling elite over who will succeed him, rather than popular protests against his rule. Mr Mugabe, who was the world’s oldest head of state, is the only leader Zimbabwe has known since a guerrilla struggle ended white-minority rule in the former Rhodesia in 1980.