Mugabe resignation ushers in new era for Zimbabwe

    Jubilation in streets and parliament tinged with uncertainty about future following decades of authoritarian rule

    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 autocrats 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.

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    Singing and dancing breaks out on the streets of Hararevideo

    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.

    Im 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! Its time for new blood. Im 36 and Ive been waiting for this all my life, Ive only known one leader, said William Makombore, who works in finance. He was waving a flag he had kept in his car since the weekends protests. Its 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.

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    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.

    Mnangagwas firing as vice-president at the start of the month triggered the takeover and the subsequent unravelling of Mugabes control. The party that had bent to Mugabes 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.


    What might happen next for Robert Mugabe?

    Robert Mugabe planned for everything, except his own retirement. He outsmarted his rivals and blindsided his allies for decades, and so most of the country had come to accept that he would stay in office until the day he died.

    Emmerson Mnangagwa, now expected to take over from him, had boasted in May that Mugabe would die in the job. As such, there was no planning for the future.

    One of the biggest questions now will be whether Mugabe can stay in Zimbabwe. Few ousted autocrats are allowed to stay on in the countries they once ruled, due to fears they may resuscitate their careers or become figureheads for opposition.

    Mugabe may be an exception, because of his age and his role at the heart of Zimbabwes long liberation struggle. Throughout the most unusual of coups, Mugabe appears to have been treated with extreme deference by the generals holding him prisoner. Party members who ended his career have paid tribute to his historical achievements.

    His much-hated wife, dubbed Gucci Grace for her spendthrift habits, may be targeted. But Mugabe is unlikely to want to face retirement alone, and any deal is expected to include protections for Grace and their children.

    Wherever they end up, the Mugabes will certainly not lack for pension funds. By some estimates he holds about 1bn of assets, including vast property holdings and businesses around the country. Much of his wealth has also been invested outside Zimbabwe.

    però, what began as a palace coup developed into a popular revolt. Mugabes downfall unleashed extraordinary hopes as hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans poured on to the streets at the weekend to call on him to leave.

    Crowds also turned up to cheer MPs when they began impeachment proceedings on Tuesday afternoon, and began singing, dancing and chanting in Africa Unity square. Though many Zimbabweans respect Mugabes role as a guerrilla hero of the liberation struggle, fewer and fewer were willing to defend his recent record.

    Emmerson Mnangagwa stands behind Robert Mugabe in a 2014 swearing-in ceremony. Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

    He has ruled as an autocrat, prepared to sacrifice the economic wellbeing of 16 million people in order to remain in power. Industry and farming have collapsed throughout the country, while inflation has spiralled and only 10% of young Zimbabweans can find jobs at home.

    By the end, Mugabe had few options left as he controlled the country through a mixture of coercion and bribery papered over with the rhetoric of revolutionary movements. Support in some branches of the security establishment had evaporated and he increasingly alienated some of his former allies by openly supporting the political ambitions of his wife, Grace.

    Even Zimbabweans reluctant to criticise the man who led the country to freedom from the British bridled at the prospect of a Mugabe dynasty. Much of the anger evident in recent demonstrations focused on Grace and the faction that had formed around her.

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    Mugabes fall will reverberate across a continent where hundreds of millions of people still suffer the excesses of authoritarian rulers, are denied justice by corrupt or incompetent officials, and struggle to hold even elected governments to account.

    The deal Mugabe has struck to leave power might tempt other rulers to leave before they are pushed, if he is able to protect his family and some of the assets he is thought to have accumulated while in power.


    Who is Emmerson Mnangagwa?

    Emmerson Mnangagwa was Zimbabwe’s powerful vice-president until 6 novembre, when he was fired by Robert Mugabe.

    The 75-year-old former intelligence chief had been locked in a battle with the first lady, Grace Mugabe, to succeed her husband as president. In October she publicly denied poisoning him after he fell ill at a rally in August.

    After his sacking, which was seen as an attempt to clear Grace Mugabe’s path to power, Mnangagwa fled to South Africa. He reportedly returned on 14 November as the military prepared to take over the country, and is firm favourite to become Zimbabwe’s next leader.

    He has strong support within the security establishment and among veterans of Zimbabwes 1970s guerrilla war, when he earned the nickname the crocodile.

    Despite allegations about his role in atrocities in the 1980s, much of the international community has long seen him as being the most likely figure in Zimbabwe to guarantee a stable transition and implement economic reforms.

    Photograph: Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP

    Coups have been extremely rare in southern Africa. Zimbabwes new rulers will aim to protect a reputation for civilian rule and so avoid sanctions and diplomatic penalties usually triggered by forced transition.

    The generals insisted from the moment they put Mugabe under house arrest that they were acting in his interests and in service of the state. Zimbabweans have largely praised the military for acting in the national interest.

    Mnangagwa, 75, the war veteran, Zanu-PF stalwart and former spy chief, is expected to be sworn in to replace Mugabe as president later this week. però, he is not the obvious face of change.

    He was Mugabes right-hand man for years, falling out of favour only as Graces political influence increased. Mnangagwa is dogged by many of the accusations of corruption and human rights abuses that tarnished Mugabes own record.

    Members of the ruling Zanu-PF have anointed Mnangagwa president in waiting, although his succession will not be automatic because he is no longer vice-president.

    Robert Mugabe kisses his wife Grace in April 2017. Photograph: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP/Getty Images

    Mnangagwa was conciliatory in his only public comment since the coup, a statement issued hours before Mugabe announced his resignation.

    My desire is to join all Zimbabweans in a new era, he wrote. In that new Zimbabwe it is important for everyone to join hands so that we rebuild this nation to its full glory, this is not a job for Zanu-PF alone but for all the people of Zimbabwe.

    The fragmented opposition movement will be hoping for a commitment from any new ruler that they will be included in any transition government, and that national elections due to be held by next August will go ahead as planned.

    Zimbabweans know that the change was driven as much by competition for power within Zanu-PF as by popular anger at a dictatorial and corrupt regime. For one evening, però, they wanted to focus on celebrating the change they had almost given up hoping would come, the end of a rule which has defined generations.

    Im 35 and I have children. I was born under Mugabe, and they were born under him, said Munyaradzi Chisango, an engineer. This is going to put Zimbabwe back on the map.


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