Zimbabwe’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, called for public unity to revive the country’s sickly economy as his new cabinet took office yesterday.
His allies defended him against criticism for giving top posts to generals who had helped his rise to power.
Mnangagwa has also come under fire for bringing back several faces from the Mugabe era, including Patrick Chinamasa as finance minister.
Air Marshal Perrance Shiri, who was handed the sensitive land portfolio, defended his appointment after taking his oath of office.
“Who says military people should never be politicians? I’m a Zimbabwean, so I have every right to participate in government,” he said.
Shiri is feared and loathed by many Zimbabweans as the then commander of the North Korean-trained 5th Brigade that played a central role in ethnic massacres in Matabeleland in 1983 in which an estimated 20 000 people were killed.
After the new ministers took the oath of office at state house, Mnangagwa said: “I have sworn in a new cabinet just to finish the term of the former president, a period of six to seven months.
“I believe with my team we will stand up to the challenge. “I want [Zimbabweans] to be united. We must grow our economy.”
Mnangagwa was seen as favourite to succeed long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, but then fell out with his boss.
Mugabe dismissed him after first lady Grace Mugabe accused him of plotting to topple her husband.
He went into exile briefly, returning after the army stepped in and the ruling party expelled Mugabe and a coterie of allies.
Mugabe, 93, resigned on November 21 after 37 years in power.
The 22-member cabinet includes Major-General Sibusiso Moyo, in charge of foreign affairs. He and Shiri had to give up their army positions.
Mugabe’s cabinet had 33 members. The new president also reinstated prosecutor-general Ray Goba.
Mnangagwa has issued a threemonth ultimatum for the return of funds siphoned out of the country by individuals and corporates.
Assembling a cabinet has not been without mishaps.
Mnangawa dropped his initial pick as education minister on Saturday, 24 hours after appointing him, after a public outcry.
He claimed to have engaged the opposition MDC party about taking part in an inclusive government.
However the MDC has denied any contact.