HARARE, Zimbabwe – Robert G. Mugabe – who has ruled as prime minister and president of the Republic of Zimbabwe since it gained independence in 1980 – resigned as president on Tuesday following a week of tension, political dissent and uncertainty in the south African nation of 16 million.
Jacob Mudenda, speaker of Parliament read out a letter in which now former President Mugabe said he was resigning “with immediate effect [for] the welfare of the people of Zimbabwe and the need for a peaceful transfer of power.” Mugabe, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders who has ruled Zimbabwe for 37 years with an iron fist, has been accused of thousands of atrocities against Zimbabwean citizens and political challengers throughout his longstanding presidency. Along with accusations of corruption, money laundering, nepotism and fraud, Mugabe has been accused of ethnic cleansing and the assignations of several prominent Zimbabwean politicians who undermined his authority. Tuesday’s announcement sent the nation into immediate celebration; lawmakers in parliant burst into cheers and dances, while ecstactic Zimbabweans flooded the streets of Harare to celebrate what they hope to be the beginning true independence for the nation.
As Zimbabweans around the world celebrate this monumental moment in the country’s history, many are taking the time to reflect on the horrors they have endured before they begin a long awaited healing process. What began as a promising future of self-rule for the former British colony of Southern Rhodesia quickly spiraled into a ruthless dictatorship and left millions of Zimbabweans with mental, physical and emotional scars.
“It was long overdue”, says Zimbabwean S.M. who wishes to only be identified by her initials, “I’m happy, don’t get me wrong but, I feel like it’s far too late. Had [Mugabe] been ousted decades ago it would have saved a lot of lives and [a lot of] people from starvation, it would have saved a lot of people from dying period. We hate that man.” In 2016, Zimbabwe experienced one of the worst droughts to hit the Horn of Africa in decades. 37 million people across the central and southern regions of Africa were threatened with mass starvation if aid did not come quickly; a quarter of the entire Zimbabwean population were a part of those figures. Many Zimbabweans focused their anger at Mugabe, blaming corruption and fraud within his party for draining funds that should have been readily available for drought victims.
Mugabe’s decision to resign began last week when the Zimbabwe Defence Force, in what many in the international community have described as the most “peaceful” coup d’etat ever seen, appeared to have seized power. Soldiers, armed with high-powered rifles and military tanks, seized control of the country’s capital Harare in the afternoon hours of Tuesday, November 14. Immediately, military forces took over all national broadcast channels and announced that Mugabe and his wife, Grace, were safe but under house arrest as the military rounded up “criminals” in president’s inner circle. Major General S.B. Moyo urged Zimbabweans to remain calm as it was “abundantly clear that this is not a military takeover of the government”. While many whispers circled that Mugabe and his wife were soon going to be expelled from the nation, the military staunchly denied it.
Several days following the military’s takeover of Harare, Mugabe’s own party, the Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front, expelled him. After continually refusing to accept the terms of a peaceful resignation, members of the ZANU-PF introduced a motion of impeachment on Tuesday morning, a constitutional process that the Zimbabwean Parliament had never before invoked. In the midst of the impeachment proceedings, Speaker Mudenda suddenly halted the process to read what he announced was Mugabe’s letter of resignation delivered by Mugabe’s aides.
As Zimbabweans celebrate what appears to be a second coming of independence, they are filled with both optimism and caution for the future. There are several issues at hand that must be addressed first, such as: will Mugabe face charges for the accusations against him, will he and his family be exiled from Zimbabwe, and who will lead the country moving forward and how will he or she come to power, amongst many others.
When asked how she will remember Robert G. Mugabe, the freedom fighter turned brutal oppressor, S.M. replied “He was a dictator. He was greedy. He killed a lot of innocent men, women and children. He destroyed Zimbabwe’s economy and stunted the growth of this country. Because of him, this country is much further behind where it should be. Mugabe deserves to be in prison for the attoriciaes he commited in the Batebeleland, all the mass killings of the Ndebeles who opposed his power, he deserves to rot in prison.” Mugabe’s immediate future is uncertain. At his age, it is unlikely that he will live long enough to ever face punishment for his destruction in Zimbabwe but one thing is for certain: the clock has struck midnight for Robert Mugabe.