ZIMBABWEANS have been partying through the night after hated dictator Robert Mugabe finally quit after 37 years in power.
Wild jubilation broke out in the country's parliament and on the streets outside as ordinary people and MPs alike celebrated the tyrant's downfall.
Despot Mugabe resigned in a shock letter submitted to parliament - which was read out in the middle of proceedings to impeach him.
Mugabe wrote: "I Robert Gabriel Mugabe in terms of section 96 of the constitution of Zimbabwe hereby formally tender my resignation... with immediate effect.
"I have resigned to allow a smooth transfer of power. My decision is voluntary on my part."
Outside the building used for the impeachment hearing, a man held up a smiling new-born baby dressed in white, drawing rapturous cheers from the crowd.
It capped an unprecedented week in which the military seized control and tens of thousands of ordinary Zimbabweans took to the streets in an extraordinary show of defiance to demand that Mugabe leave.
Tinashe Chakanetsa, 18, said: "I am so happy that Mugabe is gone, 37 years under dictatorship is not a joke. I am hoping for a new Zimbabwe ruled by the people."
Another man told Sky News: "This is the best day of my life!"
Men were breakdancing, women were singing and children were in tears as the news began to sink in.
Revellers brandished national flags and praising army chief General Constantino Chiwenga who led the military's power-grab.
Local barber Wright Chirombe said: "It's shocking, that guy is powerful, very powerful."
The news comes just hours after proceedings started today against the stubborn tyrant, who is accused of allowing his wife Grace "to usurp constitutional power".
Fearsome former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa - nicknamed "The Crocodile" - is expected to take power within two days.
Ruling party chief whip Lovemore Matuke says Mnangagwa, who fled the country after his firing, "is not far from here".
The official spoke to the AP immediately after the Parliament speaker announced Mugabe’s resignation during impeachment proceedings.
Matuke says they look forward to Mugabe doing the handover of power “so that Mnangagwa moves with speed to work for the country.”
The pariah president ignored an imposed deadline of noon yesterday to quit, after being axed by his own ruling following last week’s military coup.
Nearly four decades after the country's independence from Britain in 1980, he was regarded by many as a tyrant, willing to unleash death squads, rig elections and trash the economy in the relentless pursuit of power.
Chris Mutsvangwa, leader of Zimbabwe's influential liberation war veterans, said: "It's the end of a very painful and sad chapter in the history of a young nation, in which a dictator, as he became old, surrendered his court to a gang of thieves around his wife."
This afternoon, the country's parliament opened a session to begin the process of impeaching Mugabe, which should lead to him being stripped of office.
Parliament speaker Jacob Mubenda gave permission for a joint session of the House of Assembly and the Senate to debate a motion that would trigger impeachment proceedings against Mugabe.
"This motion is unprecedented in the history of post-independence Zimbabwe," Mubenda declared.
The military seized power and tens of thousands of citizens took to the streets to demand the 93-year-old's resignation.
'FREE FROM OPPRESSION'
Prime Minister Theresa May released a statement saying: "The resignation of Robert Mugabe provides Zimbabwe with an
opportunity to forge a new path free of the oppression that characterised his rule.
"In recent days we have seen the desire of the Zimbabwean people for free and fair elections and the opportunity to
rebuild the country’s economy under a legitimate government.
"As Zimbabwe’s oldest friend we will do all we can to support this, working with our international and regional partners to help the
country achieve the brighter future it so deserves."
Mugabe's failure to step down came a day after he shocked his people with a show of defiance when he had been expected to resign.
His enemies - led by ruthless former deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa - have launched the moves to impeach him amid rising fears of civil strife.
Zimbabwe’s ruling Zanu-PF party summoned its MPs to thrash out a plan to forcibly end the despot’s brutal 37-year reign.
The motion, which could take just two days to complete, was presented to the nation's parliament today - meaning the leader could be removed from office by Wednesday.
Under Zimbabwe's constitution, impeachment is allowed on the grounds of "serious misconduct", "violation" of the constitution or "failure to obey, uphold or defend" it, or "incapacity".
Speaking to the BBC, former deputy Mnangagwa said: "The main charge is that he has allowed his wife to usurp constitutional power when she has no right to run government.
"But she is insulting civil servants, the vice president, at public rallies. They are denigrating the army - those are the charges."
Current vice-president Phelekezela Mphoko was expected to assume the top role.
Mnangagwa's firing two weeks ago sparked the national crisis when army chiefs feared Mugabe was about to enthrone Grace.
Mugabe lost the support of influential war veterans - who fought in the conflict which led to independence from Britain in 1980.
CROCODILE SEIZES ZIMBABWE
By Danny Collins
So fearsome is the reputation of Emmerson Mnangagwa that even Zimbabwe’s reviled despot Robert Mugabe has been forced to condemn his crimes in the past.
Labour MP Kate Hoey once said of Chelsea-supporting Mnangagwa: “[He is] probably the one person in Zimbabwe who inspires even greater terror [than Mugabe].”
Violence against the white government of Rhodesia - that would later be renamed Zimbabwe - earned him the nickname 'The Crocodile', as well as a spell in prison.
The Crocodile acted as Mugabe’s muscle during the 70s in a bid to gain independence from Britain - the last African nation to leave the British Empire.
Named Mugabe's security chief, he led a band of North Korean-trained special forces who carried out unimaginable acts of cruelty against Ndebele tribes in the western Matebeleland regions of Zimbabwe during the mid-80s.
Even Mugabe admitted the 20,000 deaths his protege's forces caused were unacceptable, labelling it a “moment of madness”.