Zimbabwe’s ruling party fired Robert Mugabe as its leader on Sunday and gave the 93-year-old less than 24 hours to quit as head of state or face impeachment, an attempt to force a peaceful end to his 37 years in power after a de facto coup.
Mugabe, the only leader the southern African nation has known since independence from Britain in 1980, was replaced by Emmerson Mnangagwa, the deputy he sacked this month in a move that triggered Tuesday’s intervention by the army.
In scenes unthinkable just a week ago, the announcement was met by cheers from the 200 delegates packed into ZANU-PF’s Harare headquarters to seal the fate of Mugabe, whose support has crumbled in the four days since the army seized power.
Mugabe was given until noon local time (1000 GMT) on Monday to resign or face impeachment, an ignominious end to the career of the “Grand Old Man” of African politics who was once feted across the continent as an anti-colonial liberation hero.
Even in the West, he was renowned in his early years as the “Thinking Man’s Guerrilla,” an ironic nickname for a man who would later proudly declare he held a “degree in violence.”
As the economy crumbled and political opposition to his rule grew in the late 1990s, Mugabe showed his true colours, seizing thousands of white-owned farms, detaining opponents and unleashing security forces to crush dissent.
As the vote was announced, war veterans leader Chris Mutsvangwa, who has spearheaded an 18-month campaign to remove a man he openly described as a “dictator,” embraced colleagues and shouted: “The President is gone. Long live the new President.”
Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife Grace, who had harboured ambitions of succeeding her husband, was also expelled from the party, along with at least three cabinet ministers who had formed the backbone of her ‘G40’ political faction.
Speaking before the meeting, Mutsvangwa said Mugabe, who has so far resisted calls to quit, was running out of time to negotiate his departure and should leave the country while he could.
“He’s trying to bargain for a dignified exit,” he said.
If Mugabe refused to go, “We will bring back the crowds and they will do their business,” Mutsvangwa told reporters.
Mnangagwa, a former state security chief known as “The Crocodile,” is expected to head an interim post-Mugabe unity government that will focus on rebuilding ties with the outside world and stabilising an economy in freefall.
On Saturday, hundreds of thousands of people flooded the streets of Harare, singing, dancing and hugging soldiers in an outpouring of elation at Mugabe’s expected overthrow.
His stunning downfall is likely to send shockwaves across Africa, where a number of entrenched strongmen, from Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni to Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila, are facing mounting pressure to quit.