Harare, Zimbabwe (CNN) –We were standing in the square outside Parliament in downtown Harare on Tuesday when word started spreading. A woman ran up to me and asked, “Is he gone? Is he really gone?”
Most Zimbabweans have only ever known one president. Robert Gabriel Mugabe, 93, ruled this country with a tight grip. He never tolerated dissent, and it was ordinary people who paid the price of his 37-year reign.
Many of them spent Tuesday afternoon writing short notes on colored cards of paper and hanging them between the jacaranda trees in the square.
“Mugabe, your time is up,” read one. Nicholas, a 21-year-old graduate without a steady job, summed it up for many: “The fear is gone. We want a new Zimbabwe.”
The army seized control of the country and put Mugabe under house arrest a week ago, but the “Old Man,” as he has become known, had still refused to quit.
Zimbabweans were girding themselves for a protracted and bitter impeachment battle as Parliament convened to oust their stubborn leader on Tuesday.
But not long after the joint session opened, the speaker read out a short message. It was the resignation letter that everyone wanted to hear.
Within minutes, a ripple of news became a wave of celebration as people streamed out onto Nelson Mandela Avenue.
I have covered Zimbabwe on and off for years. We have spoken to activists who went up against batons, tear gas, and bullets. Just a few days ago, insulting the president would have landed you in jail.
And here was seemingly everyone in Harare and the millions of Zimbabweans abroad celebrating all at once.
They surrounded the military’s armored vehicles, slapping high fives with the soldiers. They climbed onto trucks, waving the Zimbabwean flag. They held anti-Mugabe signs aloft and raised their fists, snapping selfies with each other and with us.
Tendai Mahwe, dressed in a gray pullover and blue shirt, spoke for many.
“I think this is a dream come true. We haven’t seen any other leader in Zimbabwe. I heard the news on Twitter and it is a moment of brilliance. We want more investment from both east and west.”
Tendai said he had only recently found a contract job after years of searching. He is hopeful for the future.
And so was everyone else we met. They were young and old, rich and poor, mothers with babies strapped to their backs. Everyone partying together, sharing laughs and beers. And why not? The average person suffered the most under Mugabe’s reign, and now it was over.
There was Ivy, nearing her sixties, clambering onto to our live position because she wanted to have her say. And we wanted the whole world to hear Ivy.
Draped in a Zimbabwean flag, she said the “Old Man” must now rest. “I couldn’t sleep even at night. I used to have sleepless nights, because with no food at the table, suffering, now everything is ok but we need to pray for a new leader. “
It is up to that new leader to harness the unity of Zimbabweans and the potential of young people like Tendai. There is a tough road ahead, to be sure.
But on Tuesday night, as we stood on top of a pickup overlooking the crowds celebrating outside of Mugabe’s old office downtown, those questions were for another day.