Zimbabwe could have a new president as early as Wednesday following the resignation of longtime leader Robert Mugabe.
Top officials in the ruling ZANU-PF party said former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa will be sworn in either Wednesday or Thursday. Mnangagwa abruptly fled the country November 6 after Mugabe fired him, but he was expected to return Wednesday.
Car horns blared as people danced, cheered and waved in the capital, Harare, to celebrate the news of Mugabe’s departure, which he announced Tuesday in a letter read out by the speaker of parliament.
One man told VOA’s Zimbabwe service: “This is a breakthrough…We are super excited as Zimbabweans and we want to thank God. Our prayers have been answered. We have suffered a lot for 37 years.”
Speaker Jacob Mudenda read out the resignation letter soon after lawmakers began proceedings to impeach Mugabe, who had been in power for 37 years.
The letter said in part, “I, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, in terms of Section 96 of the constitution of Zimbabwe, hereby formally tender my resignation…with immediate effect.”
There has been no confirmation of the letter from the president or his office — but no denial, either.
The 93-year-old Mugabe had ruled Zimbabwe since the country won independence from Britain in 1980.
History of rights violations
The president was often criticized for human rights abuses that included the beatings, torture and killings of his political opponents. Western countries imposed sanctions on Mugabe and his allies after his supporters began seizing white-owned farmland in 2000. Zimbabwe’s farm output and economy plummeted when the land was given to blacks with little experience in large-scale farming.
Criticism intensified in 2008, after inflation reached 231 million percent and Zimbabwe was forced to abandon its currency, the Zimbabwean dollar. The country experienced new economic problems in recent years, as corruption and Mugabe’s heavy-handed economic policies scared away investors.
The U.S. embassy in Zimbabwe called Tuesday a historic moment for Zimbabwe and said the country must move toward free elections in which Zimbabweans choose their own leaders.
The U.S. State Department echoed the sentiment. “The resignation of Robert Mugabe is a historic opportunity, and historic moment for the people of Zimbabwe. The people of Zimbabwe have firmly voiced their desire for a new era to bring an end to Zimbabwe’s isolation and allow the country to rejoin the international community,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May released a statement that said Mugabe’s resignation gives Zimbabwe the opportunity to pursue a path free of oppression.
Rights group Amnesty International said the next generation of leaders in Zimbabwe must abide by the constitution and treat the population with respect.
Mugabe had faced growing pressure to resign since last week, when the military took over state institutions and put him and his wife Grace under house arrest.
The military took action after the president fired the vice president, Mnangagwa, a hero of Zimbabwe’s liberation war, and hinted he would replace Mnangagwa with Grace Mugabe. The first lady and former vice president were locked in a political battle over who would succeed the aging president, and led competing factions in the ruling party.
Until Tuesday, Mugabe showed no sign of stepping aside. He even called a Cabinet meeting for Tuesday morning. According to the Reuters news agency, only a handful of the 17 ministers showed up.
Mugabe was planning to run for another term as president in next year’s elections, when he would have been 94.
In Photos: Robert Mugabe