Robert Mugabe has resigned as president of Zimbabwe with immediate effect after 37 years in power, the speaker of the country’s parliament has said.
The announcement came during a hearing to impeach Mugabe, and launches the nation into a new era as uncertain as it is hopeful.
The move caps an astonishing eight-day crisis that started when the military took over last week in order to block the rise to power of Mugabe’s wife and her faction within the ruling Zanu-PF party, and then developed into a popular revolt against the 93-year-old autocrat.
A letter submitted to parliament by Mugabe said his decision to resign was voluntary.
Wild jubilation broke out among MPs when the speaker, Jacob Mudenda, made the announcement, and cheers and celebrations spread through the streets of Harare.
“We are elated. It’s time for new blood,” said William Makombore, who said he worked in finance. “I’m 36 and I’ve been waiting for this all my life. I’ve only known one leader.”
Munyaradzi Chisango, celebrating nearby, said: “I’m 35 and I have children. I was born under Mugabe, and they were born under him. This is going to put Zimbabwe back on the map.”
Impeachment proceedings against Mugabe began earlier on Tuesday as Zanu-PF attempted to remove him from office. Thousands of people turned up outside parliament to urge on MPs, chanting, dancing and waving placards in Africa Unity square.
Though some still consider the former guerrilla a hero of the liberation struggle, many more reviled Mugabe as a dictator prepared to sacrifice the economic wellbeing of 13 million people to remain in power.
By the end, few options were open to Mugabe, who ruled Zimbabwe through a mixture of coercion, bribery and revolutionary rhetoric. Support in some branches of the security establishment, such as the police, had evaporated.
His fall will reverberate across a continent where hundreds of millions of people still suffer the authoritarian excesses of rapacious, ruthless rulers, are denied justice by corrupt or incompetent officials and struggle to hold even elected governments to account.
The way is now clear for Emmerson Mnangagwa, the vice-president fired by Mugabe 13 days ago, to take power. He was appointed interim leader of Zanu-PF at a meeting on Sunday.
The military has said it has no intention of staying in power and, according to the constitution, Mnangagwa should now take the place of Mugabe as head of state and commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
Shortly before legislators met, Mnangagwa broke more than a week of silence to add his voice to those calling for Mugabe to step down.
Until recently Mugabe’s right-hand man, Mnangagwa, 75, is a veteran of Zimbabwe’s liberation wars and a former spy chief who has close ties with the commanders who led the takeover.
Opposition leaders in Zimbabwe have called for the formation of an inclusive transitional government but risk being sidelined by the army and Zanu-PF.
Mugabe has been under house arrest and key allies of his wife, Grace, have been removed from power since the military took charge last week.
Zanu-PF introduced the motion to impeach and the opposition seconded it. Mugabe had refused to resign until the impeachment proceedings were under way.
The case for impeachment against Mugabe focused heavily on his age and the machinations of his wife, leaving him with as much dignity as possible.
Mnangagwa said in a written statement released on Tuesday morning that he backed impeachment as an “ultimate expression of the will of the people outside an election”.
He had fled into exile earlier this month after being ousted from his position in government and Zanu-PF by a faction allied to Grace Mugabe. His supporters are widely believed to have been behind the coup.
Zimbabwe’s fragmented opposition will be hoping for an early commitment from any new ruler that they will be included in government and that polls will be held unless they agree otherwise.
Elections are due by August next year but it is unclear whether they will be held.
The fate of Grace Mugabe, the divisive first lady, is unclear. The 52-year-old has not been seen since the takeover but has been held with her husband under house arrest at the presidential residence in the upscale Borrowdale neighbourhood in Harare.
Along with 20 of her close associates, Grace Mugabe was expelled from Zanu-PF on Sunday morning.
Since taking power, the military has arrested about a dozen senior officials and ministers. Several remain detained.
The purge has effectively destroyed Grace Mugabe’s G40 faction within the party, and underlines the degree to which her husband’s overthrow has been driven as much by competition for power within Zanu-PF as popular anger towards a dictatorial and corrupt regime.
Mildred Tadiwa was out on the streets with her five-month old daughter Ivana Chizhanje on Tuesday. “I am so excited,” she said. “My baby turns five months today and the president has resigned.
“I wanted to go out and celebrate with everyone but she is asleep so I’ve just come out to walk around and see for myself. I’m excited for myself, my baby, the whole nation. My daughter will grow up in a better Zimbabwe.”
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010