Zimbabwe’s incoming president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, returned to the country Wednesday after spending about two weeks in exile.
His ascendance follows the resignation Tuesday of longtime President Robert Mugabe.
Zimbabwe’s parliament speaker said Mnangagwa would be sworn in as president on Friday. The former vice president abruptly fled the country November 6 after Mugabe fired him.
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.”
John Campbell, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said because Mnangagwa played such a key role in Mugabe’s administration, he did not anticipate a dramatic change in the style of governance in the short term.
“Nevertheless, the fact that there has been a coup, the fact that Mugabe has resigned, opens the range of possibilities,” Campbell told VOA. “Whether or not the Zimbabwean people will take advantage of that, it is too soon to tell.”
Speaker Jacob Mudenda read out the resignation letter soon after lawmakers began proceedings to impeach Mugabe.
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.
Mugabe, 93, 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 the country and said it must move toward free elections.
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 spokeswoman Heather Nauert said.
British Prime Minister Theresa May released a statement that said Mugabe’s resignation gave 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.
Pressure to resign
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 him with Grace Mugabe. The first lady and former vice president were locked in a political battle over who would succeed the aging president, and they led competing factions in the ruling party.
Until Tuesday, Mugabe had shown 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.