Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe late Tuesday resigned, bringing an end to 37 years of rule and sparking jubilant celebrations in the nation’s streets. A letter from Mr Mugabe read out by the speaker of parliament said the decision was voluntary and he had made it to allow a smooth transfer of power.
The news abruptly halted an impeachment hearing that had begun against him. The ruling Zanu-PF party said former vice-president Emmerson Mnangagwa will succeed Mr Mugabe, in power since 1980. Mr Mnangagwa’s sacking by the military earlier this month triggered a political crisis. It had been seen by many as an attempt to clear the way for Grace Mugabe to succeed her husband as leader and riled the military leadership, who stepped in and put Mr Mugabe under house arrest. After the resignation announcement, lawmakers roared in jubilation. Mr Mugabe, 93, was until his resignation the world’s oldest leader. He had previously refused to quit despite last week’s military takeover and days of protests.
According to the constitution his successor should be the current vice-president, Phelekezela Mphoko, a supporter of Grace Mugabe. But Zanu-PF chief whip Lovemore Matuke told Reuters news agency that Mr Mnangagwa would be in office “within 48 hours”. Speaking from an undisclosed location earlier on Tuesday, Mr Mnangagwa said he had fled abroad two weeks ago when he learned of a plot to kill him. According to Fergal Keane, BBC Africa editor, Harare, while driving through Harare, the cheers and the blaring of car horns signalled the end of the Mugabe era. The man who dominated Zimbabwe for so long has already begun to fade into history here. It is a city singing with the noise of joy.
He said; ”Exactly a week after the military first moved against President Mugabe, I was standing in parliament as legislators debated the motion to impeach him. Suddenly, there was cheering. An usher approached the speaker and handed him a letter. He stood to speak and we strained to hear his words. They were muffled but momentous. Robert Mugabe had resigned. On the floor of the parliament I met jubilant MPs. Some danced. Celebrations spilled into the hallways and out into the street. A people who endured white minority rule and then saw their independence become tyranny found themselves suddenly free.”
‘Let him rest in his last days’ UK Prime Minister Theresa May said Mr Mugabe’s resignation “provides Zimbabwe with an opportunity to forge a new path free of the oppression that characterised his rule”. She said that former colonial power Britain, “as Zimbabwe’s oldest friend”, will do all it can to support free and fair elections and the rebuilding of the Zimbabwean economy. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai told the BBC he hoped that Zimbabwe was on a “new trajectory” that would include free and fair elections. He said Mr Mugabe should be allowed to “go and rest for his last days”.
In other reaction:
• The US Embassy in Harare, the capital, said it was a “historic moment” and congratulated Zimbabweans who “raised their voices and stated peacefully and clearly that the time for change was overdue”
• South Africa’s main opposition Democratic Alliance welcomed the move, saying Mr Mugabe had turned from “liberator to dictator”
• Prominent Zimbabwean opposition politician David Coltart tweeted: “We have removed a tyrant but not yet a tyranny”
• Civil society group the Platform for Concerned Citizens called for dialogue between all political parties, which it said should lead to the formation of a national transitional authority
Robert Mugabe won elections during his 37 years in power, but over the past 15 years these were marred by violence against political opponents. He presided over a deepening economic crisis in Zimbabwe, where people are on average 15% poorer now than they were in 1980. However, Mr Mugabe was not forced out after decades in power by a popular mass movement but rather as a result of political splits within his Zanu-PF party. The leader of the influential liberation war veterans – former allies of Mr Mugabe – said after the army takeover that Mr Mugabe was a “dictator”, who “as he became old, surrendered his court to a gang of thieves around his wife”. Both he and Grace, 52, are believed to be at a mansion in Harare.
‘It has happened’ Mr Mugabe’s decision to finally resign sparked joy in the streets. Media captionMorgan Tsvangirai told the BBC he hoped that Zimbabwe was on a “new trajectory” “We are just so happy that things are finally going to change,” Togo Ndhlalambi, a hairdresser, told the AFP news agency. “I am the happiest person under the sun right now, because I always believed that Mugabe was going to step down in my lifetime and it has happened,” human rights activist Linda Masarira told the BBC. “And now going forward it’s time for the opposition to reorganise and ensure that we will have a government that cares for the people. And everyone has to be included.”
Robert Mugabe – Timeline of a political life
President Mugabe was accused of preparing the presidency for his wife Grace
• 1924: Born in Kutama
• 1964: Imprisoned by Rhodesian government
• 1980: Wins post-independence elections
• 1996: Marries Grace Marufu
• 2000: Loses referendum, pro-Mugabe militias invade white-owned farms and attack opposition supporters
• 2008: Comes second in first round of elections to Morgan Tsvangirai who pulls out of run-off amid nationwide attacks on his supporters
• 2009: Amid economic collapse, swears in Mr Tsvangirai as prime minister, who serves in uneasy government of national unity for four years
• 2017: Sacks long-time ally Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, paving the way for his wife Grace to succeed him. Army intervenes and forces him to step down.
The Rise and Fall of Zimbabwe’s Longtime Leader
The rule of Robert Mugabe, a once-respected liberation leader turned feared dictator and international pariah, came to an unflattering end Tuesday when the Zimbabwean president was forced to relinquish his 37-year hold on power in the face of possible impeachment. The future of the 93-year-old Mugabe, the world’s oldest head of state, now hangs in the balance. But his past paints a portrait of the disheartening decline of a man once viewed as one of Africa’s most promising statesmen. Here’s a look at the life and legacy of Robert Mugabe:
He was born Robert Gabriel Mugabe in 1924 to a poor family in a town called Kutama in what was then known as Southern Rhodesia, a British colony. Educated at Kutama College and at the University of Fort Hare in South Africa’s Eastern Cape, Mugabe studied history and English literature. He worked as a schoolteacher after graduating in the early 1950s. Mugabe is said to have seven academic degrees covering a range of disciplines, including education and law, six of which were earned through correspondence courses and two earned while in prison for sedition against the colonial government, according to various news reports.
His early career as an educator took him to what was then Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia, where he worked at a teacher training college between 1955 and 1958, and then Ghana, where he undertook similar work. It was in Ghana where Mugabe met his first wife, Sally Hayfron, who died in 1992. It was also in Ghana, the first African nation to gain independence from European colonialism, where Mugabe reportedly became inspired by African nationalism and Marxism. In 1960, Mugabe returned to his home country, where his opposition to white minority rule exploded as he joined calls for independence and black-majority rule. He embraced the Zimbabwe African National Union, later to become the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front, or ZANU-PF. His antigovernment rhetoric landed him in jail from late 1963 to 1974, after being convicted of sedition. Once released, Mugabe fled to neighboring Mozambique from where he led a guerrilla war to end British rule. Defeat of the colonialists eventually came in a negotiated settlement. And in 1980, Mugabe defeated rival liberation leaders to become prime minister of the new Zimbabwe.
In a move to quash perceived dissent and consolidate power, Mugabe ordered a crackdown in the Matabeleland stronghold of his political rival, Joshua Nkomo, in which thousands of people were massacred. As prime minister between 1980 and 1987, Mugabe called for national unity and preached racial reconciliation but his focus became the betterment of the country’s poor and downtrodden black majority. He introduced free education and healthcare, built new roads and opened the doors to black citizens in areas of business that were formerly reserved for whites. Such policies won him praise as a father figure and a respected statesman, and he became a darling on the international stage. But that would not last.
In 1987, Zimbabwe’s parliament rewrote the country’s independence constitution allowing Mugabe to become president shortly thereafter. The all-powerful position gave him the authority to dissolve parliament, institute martial law and run for as many terms as desired — essentially giving Mugabe the potential to become president for life, propped up by his ruling ZANU-PF party.
White parliamentary representation was abolished and the government was allowed to nominate 20% of the 120 members of parliament. Critics cringed that the country appeared to have created a monarchy.
In the early 1990s, the Zimbabwean government passed an amendment allowing the expropriation of about half of all white-owned land with the aim of resettling black families. The policy gained traction in the early 2000s, when Mugabe sanctioned the takeover of white-owned farms by veterans of the liberation struggle. The controversial plan met with backlash from the international community that threatened to withhold foreign aid to Zimbabwe and by white farmers who warned that appropriating their commercial farms would spell economic disaster.
Mugabe refused to abandon the plan and Zimbabwe’s economy soon began to tank.
The Zimbabwean dollar crashed, with inflation at one stage soaring to 500 billion percent. Unemployment skyrocketed, gasoline shortages became the norm and there were food riots.
Children pick up eggs from a heap of uncollected rotting garbage in Mbare, a township south of Harare, Zimbabwe, in 2005, as garbage collection became the latest casualty of the country’s floundering economy. (Associated Press)
With his political survival at stake, Mugabe turned to two main weapons: land and race. Mugabe blamed white Zimbabweans and his political rivals, whom he accused of being colonial puppets, for the grinding poverty and financial free-fall. Critics said his government was largely to blame. Investigations by news outlets and civil rights groups found that some of the expropriated land was awarded to Mugabe’s ministers and cronies and not used to relieve the overcrowding of black citizens, who were crammed onto a tiny percentage of land. The violence that erupted in the early 2000s when black liberation war veterans occupied and seized white-owned farms left scores dead, among them farmers, farm laborers and members of the political opposition.
In 2000, President Robert Mugabe speaks at a rally in Bindura for the coming parliamentary elections in Zimbabwe. (Paul Cadenhead / AFP/Getty Images) In October 2000, efforts of opposition members of Zimbabwe’s parliament to impeach Mugabe failed. That same year, the country’s constitution was amended to force Britain to pay reparations for the land it had seized from blacks during colonial rule.
In 2002, the British Commonwealth suspended Zimbabwe from the intergovernmental organization made up mostly of former territories of the British Empire, and Zimbabwe withdrew the next year. The European Union imposed sanctions, such as a travel ban and the freezing of assets, on dozens of members of Zimbabwe’s leadership as punishment for not being allowed to observe the country’s 2002 presidential vote. The United States imposed similar restrictions.
Mugabe lost the first round of presidential elections in March 2008 to Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, but the longtime leader would not cede power. Instead he launched a campaign of violence in which scores were killed. Tsvangirai ultimately withdrew from the second round of voting, but later agreed to a power sharing deal with Mugabe, and became the country’s prime minister. But by 2011, Tsvangirai declared the agreement a failure.
In 2013, Mugabe won another term in office amid widespread allegations of election fraud. By then, his second wife, Grace, a former state house typist he married in 1996 following an affair, had her eyes set on succeeding her increasingly frail husband.
Civilians and soldiers celebrate after the resignation of Zimbabwe’s president on Nov. 21, 2017, in Harare. (Marco Longari / AFP/Getty Images) That did not sit well with ruling party veterans of the liberation struggle, who turned on Mugabe. The curtain began a fast fall on Mugabe’s reign when on Nov. 6 he fired his once-trusted deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was considered Grace’s main rival to succeed Mugabe. On Nov. 15, the military took control of the country, putting Mugabe and his wife in custody. Though urged to resign, the longtime leader continued to cling to power for almost a week — until Tuesday, when the threat of impeachment gave him little choice.