Robert Mugabe resigned as president on November 21 after 37 years as the leader of Zimbabwe. The seismic event took place after Zimbabwe’s military took over the capital, Harare, and placed Mugabe and his wife Grace under house arrest on November 15. The opposition had since openly called for a change in Zimbabwean leadership; former Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai stated that it was time Mugabe resign “in the interest of the people.”
The coup was widely suspected to have been caused by a desire to prevent the emergence of Grace Mugabe as president, after former President Mugabe fired his vice president. In a televised announcement, Major General SB Moyo said that the military was “only targeting criminals around [Mugabe] who are committing crimes that are causing social and economic suffering in the country in order to bring them to justice.” General Moyo concluded that there would be a “return to normalcy” in Zimbabwe after their goals become actualized. Divisions between segments of the ruling party, ZANU-PF, existed after tensions between camps that favored Grace Mugabe as a possible successor, and those that favored vice president Mnangagwa, were exacerbated in 2016.
The coup prompted many responses from international observers. The United States Embassy to Harare publicly announced its unease about the military’s activities, stating that the United States government would “not take sides in matters of internal Zimbabwean politics,” and urged for Zimbabwe’s military to “exercise restraints, respect the rule of law, uphold the constitutionally-protected rights of all citizens, and to quickly return the country to normalcy.”
Ultimately, the High Court of Zimbabwe ruled that the military takeover was not, in fact, a coup, and that the military’s actions were legal. According to a Voice of America report, the High Court argued that the military “acted to stop the takeover of Mugabe’s powers by those around him, thus ensuring that non-elected individuals do not exercise executive functions.” The Court also decided that Mugabe’s firing of Mnangagwa was illegal, a ruling that was met with some concern as to whether or not Mnangagwa’s presidency would differ greatly from that of Mugabe’s.
Nearly a week after the coup, Mugabe resigned during the start of parliamentary impeachment proceedings. To a joyous parliament, speaker Jacob Mudenda read the former president’s letter: “I, Robert Gabriel Mugabe, in terms of section 96 of the constitution of Zimbabwe hereby formally tender my resignation… with immediate effect.” According to an Al Jazeera report, Mugabe’s resignation effectively ended the ruling party’s impeachment process after the Central Committee agreed to “dismiss him as party leader.”
Shortly after the announcement, crowds gathered in Harare to celebrate. As one Zimbabwean told the Voice of America’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.” Mugabe’s long reign had been characterized by human rights abuses including the “beatings, torture, and killing of his political opponents,” among other concerns.
On November 24, former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s second president. Tens of thousands of Zimbabweans traveled to the National Sports Stadium to witness the event. At his inauguration, Mnangagwa commended Mugabe as the “only surviving founding father of our nation,” promised to “be faithful to Zimbabwe and obey, uphold and defend the constitution and all other laws of Zimbabwe,” and vowed to create jobs for the Zimbabwean people.
Recently, President Mnangagwa released his 22-person Cabinet comprised of party loyalists, including General SB Moyo, architect of the coup which helped oust Mugabe. According to law professor Lovemore Madhuku of the University of Zimbabwe, the move was illegal. “The constitution is very clear,” said Professor Madhuku. “You have a maximum of five people that are not from parliament. As long as a person is a minister and they will draw salary from the public purse, that person must be from parliament. We have seen that there are eight or ten. What is more disturbing is why that will be done; the provision is clear. It has never been breached before.”
On December 3, BBC reported that Zimbabwe’s government announced that it would replace two Cabinet members in order to “ensure compliance with the constitution and considerations of gender, demography and special needs.”