The announcement came minutes into a joint session of the Zimbabwean Parliament in Harare, convened to prise the 93-year-old from power.
As the Speaker read out a letter from Mugabe, lawmakers broke out in thunderous applause. The impeachment proceedings were immediately suspended.
It was the culmination of an extraordinary week in the history of Zimbabwe that began when the country’s military leaders staged an unprecedented intervention to prevent the ascent to power of Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife, Grace.
When the crisis started, it bore all the hallmarks of a coup. At the end, it almost resembled a popular revolt. “We think that this is the work of God,” one young man told CNN in Harare. “We were in crisis for a long time, and this is a new day for Zimbabweans.”
The ousted President insisted that his resignation was voluntary. “I have resigned to allow smooth transfer of power,” he wrote . “Kindly give public notice of my decision as soon as possible.”
Successor lined up: All the signs pointed to a swift ascent to power for the former Vice President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose sacking by Mugabe two weeks ago triggered the crisis.
International reaction: Theresa May, the Prime Minister of Britain, from which Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980, said Mugabe’s resignation provided the country “with an opportunity to forge a new path free of the oppression that characterized his rule.”
Mugabe’s announcement was an acknowledgment of the inevitable. In reality, he lost his grip on power six days ago when the country’s top generals launched what amounted to a military coup, placing the veteran leader under house arrest.
After nearly four decades of unimpeded rule, which began amid the triumph of independence from Britain, Mugabe’s political downfall unfolded in just two weeks.
The crisis began on November 6 when Mugabe fired Mnangagwa as Vice President, in an apparent attempt to clear a path for his wife, Grace Mugabe, to succeed him.
Army generals and senior figures in Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party, suspicious of the First Lady’s lavish lifestyle and political ambitions, were horrified by the possibility she could take over.
On Tuesday, tanks were seen outside Harare and in the early hours of Wednesday morning, an army spokesman appeared on state TV to declare that a military operation was underway. By dawn it was clear that Mugabe was under house arrest, and his grip on power ebbing away
But Mugabe clung on to power for a further six days, quitting only after his party ousted him as leader, and Parliament began impeachment proceedings.
The whereabouts of the former President and his wife were unknown on Tuesday. Grace Mugabe — dubbed “Gucci Grace” after her penchant for extravagant shopping expeditions — has not been seen since the day of the military takeover. Her husband’s last appearance was during a television statement on Sunday night.