Mnangagwa pledges new era as Zimbabwe president

Reagan MASHAVAVE
1 / 5
Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in as president of Zimbabwe less than three weeks after being sacked by ousted leader Robert Mugabe

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 Robert Mugabe's shock resignation.

In his inaugural address, Mnangagwa 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 was seized by Mugabe, protect international investments in the country, and re-engage with foreign powers.

Elections scheduled for 2018 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 programme 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".

- 'Mugabe's legacy of ruin' -

"We are excited and expecting a lot from Mnangagwa. We have been under a dictatorship for a very long time," said 23-year-old Sharon Mauyakufa.

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.

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," said another.

"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 in frail health -

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.

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 55 miles (90 kilometres) 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, sitting in front of a shop.

Marjorie Masuwa, a 54-year-old shopkeeper, told AFP 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.

- 'Africa's Gandhi' -

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.

Jacob Zuma, president of regional heavyweight South Africa, did not attend as he was hosting a visit by Angola's new head of state.

"We wish to emphasise the need for the maintenance of peace and stability," Zuma said in a statement.

Robert Besseling, of the London-based EXX Africa risk consultancy, wrote in a research note that ensuring economic stability would be paramount.

"Mnangagwa's administration will also reach out to foreign banks to obtain fresh financial support facilities," he wrote.

Many hope Mnangagwa will push through investor-friendly reforms to revive Zimbabwe's once-promising economy.

Unemployment is over 90 percent, and in his first speech after being announced as the next president he promised "jobs, jobs, jobs!"

Mugabe had ruled Zimbabwe since independence in 1980, exercising almost total authority to crush any sign of dissent. His reign was characterised by brutality, rigged elections and international isolation.

Until his rule ended Tuesday with a resignation letter read out in parliament where MPs had gathered to impeach him, he was the world's oldest head of state.

Mugabe was last seen in public on Friday. Neither he nor his wife Grace has been seen since.