Former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose recent ousting prompted a military takeover in Zimbabwe, was sworn in as President on Friday, triggering an uncertain phase in the country’s history following the end of Robert Mugabe’s 37-year reign.
The swearing-in ceremony of Mnangagwa, a high-profile member of the ruling ZANU-PF party, took place at the capital’s National Sports Stadium and was witnessed by tens of thousands of jubilant Zimbabweans. Dignitaries, including leaders from various African countries, filed in to cheers.
Widely known as “the Crocodile”, Mnangagwa was a key Mugabe confidant for decades until they fell out due to the presidential ambitions of former first lady Grace Mugabe.
“I, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, swear that as President of the Republic of Zimbabwe I will be faithful to Zimbabwe and obey, uphold and defend the Constitution and all of the laws of Zimbabwe,” the 75-year-old leader said while greeting the crowd with a raised fist.
“I will protect and promote the rights of the people of Zimbabwe and discharge my duties with all my strength, the best of my knowledge and ability,” he added.
Mnangagwa was accompanied by his wife Auxilia and gave her a kiss after the green presidential sash was placed around his neck making him the second leader of Zimbabwe since independence in 1980. He received a 21-gun salute, firing of a cannon and a military aircraft fly past in a colourful ceremony.
Opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Joice Mujuru — who both had their sights on the presidency at various times — were at the ceremony. Mugabe did not attend Mnangagwa’s inauguration and the official explanation for his absence was that the 93-year-old needed to rest.
Mnangagwa, who served for half a century as his predecessor’s right-hand man, also paid tribute to Mugabe as his “father” and “mentor”.
Despite admitting he played a role in Mugabe’s ouster, Mnangagwa used his first official address to the nation to show respect to him, whom he said he still personally considered his leader.
“He led us in our struggle for national independence. He assumed responsibility for leadership at a formative and very challenging time,” Mnangagwa said, adding later that the nation should “let bygones be bygones”.
Mnangagwa laid out his vision to re-energize Zimbabwe’s economy, tackle corruption, reimburse the farmers whose land was seized under Mugabe and protect foreign investment in Zimbabwe.
“We ask those who have punished us in the past to reconsider,” Mnangagwa said, in a possible reference to years of sanctions and international condemnation over rights abuses.
People sang and danced in the stands and raised banners reading “Dawn of a new era” and “No to retribution”, even as human rights activists began to report worrying details of attacks on close allies of Grace Mugabe and their families.
Mnangagwa himself has warned against “vengeful retribution”. He was sacked as Vice President by Mugabe two weeks ago, triggering a political crisis that culminated in Mugabe’s resignation on Tuesday.
He will serve as an interim President until a leader is elected at the polls next year. He is expected to contest the election as well.