Zimbabwe will have a new leader for the first time in almost four decades when Emmerson Mnangawa is sworn in as interim President on Friday, replacing long-serving ruler Robert Mugabe, who resigned under pressure this week.
Mnangagwa, who was Mugabe’s deputy for decades, was removed from his post before an apparent coup restored him to power. He returned to the capital, Harare, on Wednesday, after hiding out following his dismissal by Mugabe earlier in November.
Mnangagwa is due to be sworn in at the National Sports Stadium in Harare. He’s scheduled to address the nation shortly afterward.
He gave a speech Wednesday night at his ZANU-PF party’s headquarters, after returning to the country, promising to lead the nation into a “new and unfolding democracy.”
On Thursday, Mugabe and his wife Grace, whose political ambitions were thwarted by the apparent coup which allowed Mnangagwa’s rise to power, were granted immunity, allowing the couple to remain in the country. Mugabe may not attend the inauguration, according to Zimbabwe’s Herald newspaper, which said he needed time to rest.
While the incoming leader isn’t expected to represent a significant shift in the country’s politics, ordinary Zimbabweans are thrilled that Mugabe has been removed.
The 93-year-old, until recently one of the world’s longest-serving head of state, was once a freedom fighter who ushered in Zimbabwe’s independence from the UK almost four decades ago. He has since presided over mass alleged human rights violations and ruinous economic policies.
Dubbed the “Crocodile” for his political toughness, Mnangagwa was part of the ZANU-PF apparatus presided over by Mugabe and, until his surprise sacking a little over two weeks ago, was inextricably linked with the nonagenarian ruler.
While working with Mugabe, he headed up the feared intelligence agency as well as the defense and justice ministries during times of state oppression and brutality, and is tainted by accusations of his involvement in the Matebeleland massacres in the 1980s.
Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s long-time opposition leader, told CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour that he doubts the country’s incoming leader will reform Zimbabwe.
“Knowing Emmerson Mnangawa, his character, he will have to work very hard to change his character so that he can define the future of the country and define his future as a democrat, as a reformer. That I doubt,” the politician, who shared power with Mugabe for several years, said Thursday.
“But at the same time, he knows that he cannot continue on the same path Mugabe has traveled and still expect the population to respect him.”
Eddie Cross, a former opposition Member of Parliament, says that his country’s expectations for the new leadership are “unreasonably high.” Mnangagwa, he told CNN, has “a massive task” ahead of him.
“The first thing he’s got to do is give us a vision of where he wants to take Zimbabwe. Because we don’t know that at this point in time. Then he’s got to tell how he intends to get there.”
“He can’t do it on his own, he needs the international community to buy into whatever he’s going to do because he needs global support, and that’s a tall order for a man who’s been at the helm of a dictatorial regime for 37 years.”
‘We’ve suffered enough’
In the township of Highfields, a stronghold of Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party, people were delighted that “the old man” was gone and, in the face of a turgid economy, were eager for change.
“Surely we’ve suffered enough,” says Maxwell Tandare, a father of three and former bank manager. “All these years.”
He’s desperate for a chance to vote in change, and feels that the only way that can happen is if the two parties can cooperate.
“The two of them, Mnangagwa and Tsvangirai, they must come together, work together,” to bring proper reforms for next year’s general election, he told CNN’s Farai Sevenso.