SUDDENLY the dictator was no more. As Zimbabwe’s parliament began impeachment proceedings against Robert Mugabe, who had stubbornly refused to step down despite a country rising against him, a hush came over the joint session of senators and MPs. The speaker rose, in his hand a letter. Mr Mugabe had resigned. The room roared. “We have set ourselves free,” said one dancing man, a member of the central committee of Zanu-PF, the ruling party. “Mugabe is down. It is our time now.”
It was a remarkable fall for a man who bragged he would keep on ruling “until God says come” and whose wife, Grace, until recently a powerful figure in Zanu-PF, had said that if should he die before an election scheduled for next year, the party would “field him as a corpse”.
As dusk fell, Harare rang with hooting car horns and the shouts and songs of an overjoyed people. Soldiers and tanks stationed throughout the city since taking control a week ago kept guard calmly. Few had expected Mr Mugabe to stand down willingly after 37 years in power, even after the army, his own party and his people all demanded that he go. The impeachment process, which began on Tuesday, had been expected to drag out for weeks. Instead it was over within a few hours. Mr Mugabe, in an uncharacteristically brief letter, said he was stepping down voluntarily “with immediate effect”.
Yet the country now freed from the tyranny of Mr Mugabe is badly damaged. Its economy is shrinking, many of its banks are probably bust and it is suffering from a crippling shortage of hard currency. And it is not yet freed from a ruling party that, under Mugabe, has systematically rigged elections and beaten up members of the opposition while allowing its leading figures to gorge themselves on stolen wealth.
Amid the jubilation at Mr Mugabe’s end, Zimbabweans await the ascendancy of another deeply flawed figure, Emmerson Mnangagwa, a former vice-president sacked by Mr Mugabe on November 6th. It was this misstep by Mr Mugabe that set in motion his dramatic fall. Mr Mnangagwa fled the country after being fired, saying his life was in danger, and he has not been seen in public since. Yet his path to the highest office seems assured. On Sunday his party nominated him as its president and he is poised to take power, potentially in the next 48 hours. “This is wonderful. It means a new era,” said Josiah Hungwe, a Zanu-PF minister. “From now the hard work begins.”
Others were more equivocal. David Coltart, a prominent figure in the opposition, said on Twitter: “We have removed a tyrant but not yet a tyranny.”