A week ago, the 93-year-old president’s position appeared impregnable. Now, after a peaceful uprising orchestrated by the Army, the dictator’s 37 years of misrule appear to be finally at an end, though his fate – and that of his wife and close associates – is still uncertain.
That said, his departure can’t come a day too soon for the one-time ‘bread basket’ of Africa which became an economic and political basket case under Mugabe’s repression, while he funded his own opulence at the expense of his people.
It is almost 10 years since Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, tore up his dog collar on national television in solidarity with the voiceless Zimbabwean people – he said their identities had been stolen – and vowed not to replace it until Mugabe had left office. Like so many, he did not anticipate a decade-long wait and the hiatus of Sunday’s non-resignation.
Yet, while the Archbishop and watching world will be relieved, for now, that the uprising has been a peaceful one, it is still premature to say that Zimbabwe has been truly liberated despite the celebrations in its Parliament as the former leader’s portrait was removed.
It still has to make the transition to a fully-fledged democracy – the country remains controlled by Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party – and today’s visit to the region by former diplomat Rory Stewart, now a much-respected Foreign Office minister, could not be more timely.
The quietly-spoken Cumbrian MP stresses, wisely, that change must be led by the people. “There are still many uncertainties but I feel it’s a real opportunity for Zimbabwe, if we get it right,” he said. The challenge is ensuring that this journey does not result in one tyrant simply being replaced by another in a power grab, while world leaders sit on their hands.