HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe’s recently fired vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was set to return as early as Wednesday to be sworn in as the country’s new leader, after Robert Mugabe announced his stunning resignation during impeachment proceedings against him.
Zimbabweans erupted in response Tuesday, cheering and dancing in the streets late into the night, thrilled to be rid of a leader whose early promise after the end of white minority rule in 1980 was overtaken by economic collapse, government dysfunction and human rights violations.
Now the focus turns to Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s longtime deputy who was pushed aside earlier this month as unpopular first lady Grace Mugabe positioned herself to replace him and succeed her husband. Mnangagwa fled the country, claiming threats against his life.
That led the military to step in a week ago, opening the door for the ruling party and the people to publicly turn against the president.
It was not clear what the 93-year-old Mugabe and his wife would do next. Mugabe, who was the world’s oldest head of state, said in his resignation letter that legal procedures should be followed to install a new president “no later than tomorrow.”
The speaker of parliament was expected to speak to reporters at midday on the way forward.
Zimbabweans woke up to the first day in 37 years without Mugabe in power. With some nursing hangovers, they looked over newspaper headlines such as “Adios Bob and Ta-ta President.”
“I think this change of government is like a new breath of fresh air right across the country,” said Patrick Musira on the streets of the capital, Harare. “Everyone was engulfed with excitement and they are looking for a better future, a brighter future with work.”
Zimbabwe’s new leaders are faced with a once-prosperous nation whose economy has collapsed, sending well-educated but frustrated young people into desperate work as street vendors. Many have left the country altogether.
Mnangagwa is a former justice and defense minister who served for decades as Mugabe’s enforcer, a role that earned him the nickname “Crocodile.” Many opposition supporters believe he was instrumental in the army killings of thousands of people when Mugabe moved against a political rival in the 1980s.
So far in the current political turmoil Mnangagwa has used inclusive language, saying in a statement hours before Mugabe’s resignation that all Zimbabweans should work together to advance their nation.