On Sunday, Zimbabwe’s governing party expelled its leader, President Robert Mugabe, 93.
The stunning rebuke by Mr. Mugabe’s party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party, or ZANU-PF, came a day after thousands of Zimbabweans took to the streets to celebrate his continuing fall from power after a military takeover.
The central committee also appointed the previously fired vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, as Mr. Mugabe’s successor to lead the party.
Under the country’s constitution, Mr. Mugabe remains president in name. But if he does not resign by noon Monday, party members said, he would face impeachment by Parliament.
On Friday, Mr. Mugabe appeared in public for the first time since the army took charge of the country earlier last week to convene a graduation ceremony at Zimbabwe Open University in Harare, the nation’s capital. He then appeared to fall asleep in his chair.
Then, on the following day, tens of thousands of Zimbabweans took to the streets in Harare, the nation’s capital, demanding that Mr. Mugabe step aside. Exuberant protesters marched alongside soldiers in tanks, some chanting slogans like “Enough is enough!” and others carrying signs reading “Mugabe must go!”
The protest march was broadcast on state media, something that would have been unthinkable even a week ago. And it was a clear show of support for the military ouster of the repressive leader, and a strong indication that his days in office were numbered.
Zimbabwe is the former British colony that, with a white minority government, unilaterally declared independence in 1965 as Rhodesia. The state endured international isolation and a 15-year guerrilla war with black nationalist forces, culminating in the majority-ruled Zimbabwe of today.
Mr. Mugabe became Prime Minister in 1980, and has been president of the country since 1987.
In widely disputed elections in 2008, Mr. Mugabe’s security forces beat thousands of opposition supporters, killing an unknown number of them, and prompting their leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, to withdraw from a runoff vote. Mr. Mugabe was declared the winner until global pressure forced him into a power-sharing government with Mr. Tsvangirai.
In 2013, elections were again flawed but Mr. Mugabe emerged triumphant, ending the power-sharing arrangement and insisting that he would run again in 2018 — not a likely prospect now.
Under his authoritarian regime, the state security apparatus has dominated the country and been responsible for widespread human rights violations. The U.S State Department sharply criticized the Mugabe regime for “politically compromised” elections, “intimidation and targeted violence,” the “abduction, arrest, torture, abuse, and harassment” of political opponents and restrictions on civil liberties.
The Zimbabwean government has also, according to the State Department, expropriated private property, discriminated “against persons with disabilities, racial and ethnic minorities” and “restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, and movement.”
The authoritarian leader was barred from travel to the West except to attend international gatherings.
Wikileaks revelations show that the U.S. has been trying to effect regime change in Zimbabwe at least since 2007.
The army took over last week after the country’s vice president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, was sacked by his former ally Mr. Mugabe for allegedly plotting against the government. Mr. Mnangagwa, fearing for his safety, then fled to South Africa.
He had good reason to run, considering the enmity shown toward him by Grace Mugabe, the long-time president’s 52-year-old wife, who has spoken of succeeding Mr. Mnangagwa as vice-president and eventually her husband as president.
Mrs. Mugabe has a loyal following but also is reviled by much of the public for her opulent lifestyle — she owns palatial homes and is said to have spent $75,000 on luxury goods on a single shopping spree in Paris. Unemployment in Zimbabwe is close to 90% and chronic shortages of hard currency have triggered hyperinflation, with prices of imports rising as much as 50 percent a month.
Mrs. Mugabe’s temperament has also been an issue. Once, outside a luxury Hong Kong hotel where she was staying, she ordered her bodyguard to assault a photographer, eventually joining in the attack, punching the man repeatedly in the face while wearing diamond encrusted rings.
Mugabe had been widely expected to use a broadcast speech to announce his resignation, but instead he defied his own ZANU-PF party and hundreds of thousands of protesters by pledging to preside over the party’s next congress in December.
ZANU-PF had given Mugabe, less than 24 hours to quit or face impeachment, and it seemed likely the proceedings to formally remove him from power would begin by Tuesday.
That is a welcome development for Zimbabweans, although it remains to be seen who will end up assuming the presidency and what sort of leader he will prove to be.
For now, though, a lesson for Western powers lies in the recent developments: Efforts to create change in foreign lands may have their place. But actual change, in the end, occurs not when outside forces issue reports and engage in machinations and proclaim that the time has come, but rather when a populace comes to understand, as the chant at the recent demonstration had it, that “enough is enough.”