22 Nov 2017

Zimbabwe at 'critical point' after Mugabe quits

1:27 pm on 22 November 2017

Robert Mugabe's resignation as president will be seen as a critical point in Zimbabwe's history, New Zealand's Foreign Minister says.

A portrait of Robert Mugabe is removed from the International Conference centre, where parliament had been sitting.

A portrait of Robert Mugabe is removed from the International Conference centre, where parliament had been sitting. Photo: AFP

Mr Mugabe stepped down as president just as MPs were beginning impeachment proceedings.

He has ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, and had been clinging to power despite being expelled from his own political party, Zanu-PF, and the military seizing power last week.

Former vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa, sacked by Mr Mugabe this month, is expected to take over as president.

The New Zealand government welcomed the resignation.

Foreign Affairs Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters said Zimbabwe had suffered enormously under Robert Mugabe.

The Zimbabwean people had voiced support for change in a peaceful way and the moment would be seen as a critical point in the country's history, he said.

Mr Peters said he hoped Zimbabwe could return to being a prosperous and vibrant country, free of oppression.

Zimbabwean Paulette Scrooby, who now lives in New Zealand, said she cried tears of happiness after learning of the resignation.

"Initially just tears, tears of joy and kind of laughing, a bit like a mad person, all by myself in the lounge.

"Also a bit of sadness ... after all these years of so much heartache and so many families dispersed and spread all around the globe and so much suffering for the people left behind, that it's taken 37 years seems like a terribly long time to have to wait for something that should be a democratic right."

Ms Scrooby, who lives in Whangarei, fled Zimbabwe in 2003.

She said she was hopeful that Emmerson Mnangagwa would hear the messages from the Zimbabwean people.

"Hoping the Zimbabweans get the future they deserve.

"They've put up with a lot."

Chance to 'forge a new path'

World leaders and rights groups have called for free elections and a new path free of oppression in the wake of Mr Mugabe's resignation.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May said Mr Mugabe's resignation gave Zimbabwe an opportunity to forge a new path "free of the oppression that characterised his rule".

She said that former colonial power Britain "as Zimbabwe's oldest friend" would do all it could to support free and fair elections and the rebuilding of the Zimbabwean economy.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai told the BBC he hoped that Zimbabwe was on a "new trajectory" that would include free and fair elections. He said Mr Mugabe should be allowed to "go and rest for his last days".

The United States called for free and fair elections and unwavering respect for the rule of law in Zimbabwe following what it called the "historic moment" of Robert Mugabe's resignation as president.

"Tonight marks a historic moment for Zimbabwe," the US embassy in Harare said in a statement.

"Whatever short-term arrangements the government may establish, the path forward must lead to free, fair and inclusive elections."

New Zealand's Government has welcomed the resignation of Zimbabwe's President.

'The people of Zimbabwe deserve better'

South Africa's main opposition Democratic Alliance welcomed the move, saying Mr Mugabe had turned from "liberator to dictator"

Prominent Zimbabwean opposition politician David Coltart tweeted: "We have removed a tyrant but not yet a tyranny".

Civil society group the Platform for Concerned Citizens called for dialogue between all political parties, which it said should lead to the formation of a national transitional authority.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Zimbabweans "to maintain calm and restraint".

Amnesty International said that under Mr Mugabe tens of thousands of people were tortured, forcibly disappeared or killed in a culture of impunity that allowed "grotesque crimes to thrive".

"The people of Zimbabwe deserve better. The next generation of leaders must commit itself to upholding the constitution, living up to Zimbabwe's international human rights obligations and treating its people with dignity and justice," the human rights group said in a statement.

- RNZ / BBC / Reuters