Last night Robert Mugabe finally gave his resignation to the Speaker of the Zimbabwe Parliament, and impeachment proceedings against him were stopped. This morning, I asked some local friends from our street what they thought about it. Everyone’s been following it, but with all the moving pieces it’s been hard to keep up so some of them didn’t yet know that he had actually stepped down.
They said, this is a new day for Zimbabwe, a good day, a day for democracy.
Why a good day? I ask.
Because he was in there for such a long time, too many years, they replied. This is not our African way. It is better to have changes in Presidents after a while so one person does not become a dictator, so they have to justify themselves to the people.
Isn’t there an argument, I asked, that he was the great hero of Zimbabwe’s independence, and so must continue to be respected? Their answer was that respect and honour does not mean continued ruling power. Look to the example of Tanzania, they said. We had our Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, who brought us independence and was the father of our nation. He stepped aside, and we have had a succession of Presidents since then. He is still greatly respected in this country, and him stepping aside did not change that.
Nevertheless, there was a word of warning too. This ousting of Mugabe is an urban thing, they told me. It may take a very long time for any changes to reach the poor villages and interior parts of the country. The rural/urban divide is a big one. Life for poor people may be largely unaffected by political change at this top level. I guess this is part of the struggle: Mugabe may be gone, but there is a legacy of economic and political destruction, and it remains to be seen if, when or how a new government will overcome this, and for whose benefit.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.