Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa was preparing Thursday for his new role as president after a triumphant return home following the dramatic departure of Robert Mugabe, ending 37 years of authoritarian rule.
Mnangagwa, who has close ties to the army and the security establishment, returned to Zimbabwe on Wednesday where he received a hero’s welcome, telling crowds of supporters in Harare they were witnessing the start of a new democratic era.
The 75-year-old will be sworn in as president at an inauguration ceremony on Friday.
It was his first public speech since Mugabe fired him as vice president on November 6 over a succession tussle with the first lady in a move which prompted the military’s intervention and eventually led to Mugabe’s resignation on Tuesday.
“Today we are witnessing the beginning of a new and unfolding full democracy in our country,” he told hundreds of supporters, some wearing shirts emblazoned with his image.
He arrived at the headquarters of the ruling ZANU-PF in a presidential-style motorcade surrounded by a large security detail.
In the crowd, two young men held up stuffed crocodiles in a nod to Mnangagwa’s nickname, earned for his reputation for stealth and ruthlessness.
‘All I want is job creation’
“Great speech all round, can’t describe how I felt seeing him after what he went through. All I want is job creation,” said Remigio Mutero, 30, an unemployed IT graduate.
The inauguration will be held at the 60,000-capacity National Sports Stadium and organisers have called on Zimbabweans “from all walks of life” to come and witness the “historic day”.
Ruling party supporters will be bused to the ceremony from across Zimbabwe for the “once in a lifetime event”, said a ZANU-PF planning note.
Ahead of the inauguration, the army issued a statement commending “the people of Zimbabwe for continuing to behave well as they celebrate”.
But it warned that criminals had been impersonating soldiers since the crisis began to extort money from the public.
Britain, the former colonial power, said it would send Africa Minister Rory Stewart to the ceremony — but it is understood that no member of the royal family will attend.
Mugabe’s iron grip ended Tuesday in a shock announcement to parliament, where MPs had convened to impeach the 93-year-old leader who had dominated every aspect of Zimbabwean public life for decades.
He was last seen in public on Friday and gave a televised address on Sunday, but neither he nor his wife Grace has been seen since, with their whereabouts unknown.
On the streets, news that his long and often brutal leadership was over sparked wild celebrations which lasted late into the night.
Loosing the ‘democratic genie’
A former key Mugabe ally, Mnangagwa had fled the country after his dismissal, saying he would not return without guarantees for his safety.
His sacking was the result of an increasingly bitter succession battle with Grace Mugabe, who had been pushing to take over from her ageing husband.
But critics describe Mnangagwa as a ruthless hard-liner, warning that he could prove just as authoritarian as his mentor.
Peter Fabricius, an analyst at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies said many opposition figures will be expecting Mnangagwa to establish a power-sharing government of national unity.
“In toppling Mugabe, (the generals and Mnangagwa) also let the genie of democracy out the bottle, propelled by euphoria,” he wrote in a research note.
“Trying to squeeze it back in may not be easy.”
Addressing the economy
Mugabe’s resignation capped a chaotic week in which the military seized control and tens of thousands of Zimbabweans took to the streets in an unprecedented show of dissent against Mugabe, who left behind an economy in ruins.
“We hope to be able to access our money from the bank come December and the US dollar must come back,” said Talent Chamunorwa, 37, a brick seller.
He was referring to Zimbabwe’s chronic shortage of cash and a mistrusted scheme for “bond notes” whose value is supposed to be linked to the US currency, but which trade at a significantly lower rate in reality.
The state-run Herald newspaper said that “doors will now be open” for investment and job creation.
“(Mnangagwa) was very blunt in his remarks about what we needed on the economic front: jobs, jobs, jobs… these must be real jobs, paying what they are worth,” The Herald said in a leading article on Thursday.
Thanking the army
Mugabe had ruled Zimbabwe almost unopposed since independence, eventually becoming the world’s oldest serving head of state.
But efforts to position his 52-year-old wife Grace as his successor were his undoing.
Although Mugabe’s fate remains unknown, the ZANU-PF has said he deserves to be treated with respect after leading the country for nearly four decades.
Last week’s military takeover had all the hallmarks of a coup, but the generals stopped short of forcing Mugabe out, and Mnangagwa thanked army chief General Constantino Chiwenga during his speech on Wednesday.