Parliament’s Speaker Jacob Mudenda read out a letter from the 93-year-old president announcing that he was resigning with immediate effect in order to ensure “a smooth transfer of power.”
He has governed Zimbabwe ever since the end of white minority rule in 1980 following years of armed resistance.
The announcement was met with cheers and the impeachment proceedings halted. Parliament was accusing Mr Mugabe of allowing his wife Grace to usurp constitutional power and issue death threats to ministers including former Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the former security chief whose sacking on November 6 may have precipitated the military takeover a week later.
It also said he was too old to be an effective president, listing examples of his falling asleep during meetings as evidence.
Mr Mnangagwa was declared the new leader of ruling party Zanu-PF on Sunday and is now referred to as “president-designate.” A long-term ally of Mr Mugabe, his tenure as security chief coincided with the massacre of ethnic Ndebele citizens in 1983-4 and the suppression of liberation veteran Joshua Nkomo’s Zimbabwe African People’s Union. The military stated yesterday it had established “contact” with him and that he would return to the country shortly.
Mr Mugabe’s resignation was unexpected, since he had called a cabinet meeting for yesterday morning, prompting parliament to order ministers not to attend but to prioritise simultaneous impeachment discussions. Five ministers apparently heeded Mr Mugabe’s summons while 17 ignored it.
It is unclear how the resignation will affect plans by the country’s neighbours to meet and discuss the political crisis, which included plans for the presidents of South Africa and Angola to arrive in Zimbabwe today.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change led by former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai had seconded Zanu-PF’s impeachment motion, and Mr Tsvangirai rallied supporters in Harare yesterday, welcoming the end of Mr Mugabe’s reign and calling for his successor to be chosen by national elections.