Robert Mugabe finally resigned as president of Zimbabwe yesterday after MPs from both sides of the political divide united in an attempt to impeach him and thousands vowed to sleep on the streets until he quit.
His departure brings to an end a brutal 37-year rule and sparked scenes of jubilation as Zimbabweans cheered, wept and hoisted soldiers on to their shoulders, bringing traffic in the capital, Harare, to a standstill. Mr Mugabe, 93, a former guerrilla fighter, has governed Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980. His departure from public office leaves the Queen as the world’s oldest head of state.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, 75, the former deputy whose dismissal by Mr Mugabe led to a coup last week, has been chosen as interim president. He was flying back to Harare last night to take office today having fled the country in fear of his life.
Mr Mugabe’s resignation was announced in a surprise letter sent to the Speaker of the Harare parliament who was convening a debate on the beginning of impeachment proceedings, a process that would have taken months.
The letter stated: “I, Robert Gabriel Mugabe . . . hereby formally tender my resignation . . . with immediate effect . . . My decision to resign is voluntary. It arises from my concern for the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and my desire to ensure a smooth and non-violent transfer of power that underpins national security, peace and stability.”
Mr Mnangagwa will remain as interim president until general elections in March. A long-serving minister, he is said to have masterminded ethnic cleansing in the 1980s as one of President Mugabe’s main henchmen. He said last night: “I look forward, together with you, the people of Zimbabwe, to tackle the political and economic challenges facing our beloved country . . . God bless Zimbabwe.”
Morgan Tsvangirai, 65, the leader of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, who endured detention and torture during the Mugabe era, said the former president should be allowed a quiet retirement rather than prosecution for war crimes. “I think to prosecute the old man will be a futile exercise,” he said.
Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, said he would “not pretend to regret” Mr Mugabe’s downfall. “This can be a moment of hope for this country,” he said.
In the wake of President Mugabe’s resignation – precipitated by the threat of impeachment – one cannot but be impressed by the charitable statement made by Mugabe’s Opposition Leader, Morgan Tsvangirai:
“Morgan Tsvangirai, 65, the leader of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party, who endured detention and torture during the Mugabe era, said the former president should be allowed a quiet retirement rather than prosecution for war crimes. “I think to prosecute the old man will be a futile exercise,” he said.”
This evidence of a person who was badly treated by Mugabe – now wishing his former enemy peace in retirement – is surely a sign of the charism of forgiveness that Christ exemplified at His Crucifixion: “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do!”
There can be little doubt that the Dictator, Robert Mugabe, actually knew what he was doing in his brutal repression of his enemies while he was in power. However, judgement belongs to God alone. Suffice to say that Zimbabwe can rejoice in Mugabe’s downfall.
What now remains to be seen is whether his successor for the time-being, Emmerson Mnangagwa, his former Deputy who was dismissed from his position through the influence of Mugabe’s wife Grace; will have learned a lesson from the past that will enable him to reform the culture of oppression and exploitation that brought Zimbabwe to its knees – both politically and economically over the period of Mugabe’s dictatorship.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand