Emmerson Mnangagwa vowed sweeping change as he was sworn in as Zimbabwe’s president yesterday, seeking to reassure foreign investors and pledging to fight poverty and corruption after Robert Mugabe’s shock resignation.
In his inaugural address, the new president set out a programme 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 had been 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, 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 programme with all the nations of the world,” he said.
After reciting the oath of office, he 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 November 6.
Two days later, Mnangagwa fled the country, only returning on Wednesday when he said Zimbabwe was entering an era of “full democracy”.
But critics have warned 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.
Yesterday’s 21-gun salute marked Mnangagwa’s transformation from a sacked enemy of the state to president of a nation of 16 million people.
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.
Police commissioner Augustine Chihuri, seen as a Grace supporter, was loudly booed at the swearing in. Mugabe did not attend. Mnangagwa promised the Mugabes “maximum security and welfare” in talks on Thursday.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who heads the Movement for Democratic Change, received rapturous applause as he arrived at the packed stadium.
Also at the ceremony were Zambian President Edgar Lungu, Botswana’s President Ian Khama and Zambian independence leader Kenneth Kaunda – known as “Africa’s Gandhi” – all of whom were cheered.
President Jacob Zuma did not attend as he was hosting a visit by Angola’s new head of state.
Mugabe had ruled Zimbabwe since its independence in 1980, exercising almost total authority to crush any sign of dissent.
Zimbabwe’s once-promising economy collapsed under Mugabe, and many hope Mnangagwa will push through investor-friendly reforms.
Unemployment is over 90%, and in his first speech after being announced as the next president he promised “jobs, jobs, jobs!”