Zimbabwe’s new President Emmerson Mnangagwa vowed sweeping change at his swearing-in on Friday, seeking to reassure foreign investors and pledging to fight poverty and corruption after former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe’s shock resignation.
In his inaugural address, Mnangagwa set out a program of dramatic change that promised a stark reversal of many of Mugabe’s signature policies.
He pledged that his government would compensate white farmers whose land was seized by Mugabe, protect international investments in the country and re-engage with foreign powers.
Elections scheduled for next year would go ahead as planned, he said.
“I humbly appeal to all of us that we let bygones be bygones,” he said at the ceremony in the 60,000-seat national stadium in Harare, which was packed to capacity.
“We must work together — you, me, all of us who make this nation. I stand here today to say that our country is ready for a sturdy re-engagement program with all the nations of the world,” he said.
After reciting the oath of office, the 75-year-old leader was given a ceremonial chain and sash of office flanked by his wife, Auxilia, receiving salutes and pledges of allegiance from the country’s military and security chiefs.
Military aircraft and helicopters then staged a fly-past.
Mnangagwa also used his speech to pay tribute to Mugabe, describing him as one of the “founding fathers of our nation.”
“We are excited and expecting a lot from Mnangagwa. We have been under a dictatorship for a very long time,” 23-year-old Sharon Mauyakufa said.
The 93-year-old former president, who ruled Zimbabwe with an iron fist for 37 years, was ousted after the military intervened over his sacking of Mnangagwa as vice president on Nov. 6.
Two days later, Mnangagwa fled the country, only returning on Wednesday when he said Zimbabwe was entering an era of “full democracy.”
However, critics have said that Mnangagwa — whose ruthlessness won him the nickname “The Crocodile,” and who has been accused of overseeing violence and ethnic massacres — could prove just as authoritarian as his mentor.
Friday’s 21-gun salute marked Mnangagwa’s transformation from a sacked enemy of the state to president of a nation of 16 million people.
“We thank you, our soldier,” read one banner at the stadium.
“The people have spoken,” another said.
“Mnangagwa came at the right time when the economy was showing signs of going back to 2008 when... people were starving,” said Nozithelo Mhlanga, a 27-year-old accountant. “Mugabe has left no legacy at all except that of ruin, poverty and corruption.”
Mugabe, who is in increasingly frail health, had been positioning his wife, Grace, as his successor, but the army chiefs stepped in to halt the plan.
Zimbabwean police commissioner Augustine Chihuri, seen as a Grace supporter, was loudly booed at the swearing-in.
Mugabe did not attend.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who heads the Movement for Democratic Change, received rapturous applause as he arrived at the packed stadium.
In Mugabe’s native home of Kutama, about 90km west of Harare, reaction to Mnangagwa’s inauguration was subdued as residents expressed sorrow over Mugabe’s ouster.
“We are so grateful for what he has done, the way he has looked after us until today. We hope things will continue just as good,” said Tobias Sowero, 40.
Marjorie Masuwa, a 54-year-old shopkeeper, told reporters she feared for the future under Mnangagwa.
“When I heard that [Mugabe] had stepped down, I didn’t get emotional, but allow me to say that he was loving. I just wish the one who is replacing him is the same,” she said.
On Thursday, Mnangagwa promised the Mugabes “maximum security and welfare” in talks.
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