Zimbabwe's next leader prepares to take power Friday

Susan Njanji and Reagan Mashavave
1 / 5
On arrival back in Harare, Emmerson Mnangagwa was treated to a hero's welcome ahead of his inauguration as Zimbabwe's president on Friday

Zimbabwe's Emmerson Mnangagwa was preparing Thursday for his new role as president after a triumphant return home following the dramatic departure of Robert Mugabe, ending 37 years of authoritarian rule.

Mnangagwa, who has close ties to the army and the security establishment, returned to a hero's welcome in Zimbabwe on Wednesday, telling crowds of supporters in Harare they were witnessing the start of a new democratic era.

The 75-year-old will be sworn in as president at an inauguration ceremony on Friday and state media suggested that Mugabe may attend and receive a "farewell" guard of honour.

Mugabe fired Mnangagwa as vice president on November 6 over a succession tussle with the first lady, Grace Mugabe. That prompted the military's intervention and eventually led to the president's resignation on Tuesday.

Mnangagwa told hundreds of supporters on Wednesday that they were witnessing "a new and unfolding full democracy".

- 'All I want is job creation' -

"Great speech all round, can't describe how I felt seeing him after what he went through. All I want is job creation," said Remigio Mutero, 30, an unemployed IT graduate.

The inauguration will be held at the 60,000-capacity National Sports Stadium, and organisers have called on Zimbabweans "from all walks of life" to come and witness the "historic day".

Supporters of the governing ZANU-PF party will be bussed to the ceremony from across Zimbabwe for the "once in a lifetime event", a party planning note said.

Ahead of the inauguration, the army warned that criminals had been impersonating soldiers since the crisis and extorting money from the public and called on Zimbabweans to obey the law.

Mnangagwa also wrote a note to the public, acknowledging the uncertainty that has plagued the country since the army took power.

Britain, the former colonial power, said it would send Africa Minister Rory Stewart to the ceremony, but it is understood that no member of the royal family will attend.

Regional heavyweight South Africa said President Jacob Zuma would not be present as he would be hosting a visit by Angola's new head of state.

Zuma also praised Mugabe, noting "his contribution to the liberation of the Southern African region and the decolonisation of the continent".

Mugabe's iron grip ended Tuesday in a shock announcement to parliament, where MPs had convened to impeach the 93-year-old leader who had dominated every aspect of Zimbabwean public life for decades.

He was last seen in public on Friday and gave a televised address on Sunday, but neither he nor his wife Grace has been seen since, with their whereabouts unknown.

- Loosing the 'democratic genie' -

A former key Mugabe ally, Mnangagwa had fled the country after his dismissal, saying he would not return without guarantees for his safety.

Critics describe Mnangagwa as a ruthless hard-liner, warning that he could prove just as authoritarian as his mentor.

Peter Fabricius, an analyst at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said opposition figures would be expecting Mnangagwa to establish a power-sharing government.

"In toppling Mugabe, (the generals and Mnangagwa) also let the genie of democracy out the bottle, propelled by euphoria," he wrote in a research note.

"Trying to squeeze it back in may not be easy."

The main opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change, said it was "cautiously optimistic" that Mnangagwa would not be as "evil, corrupt, decadent" as Mugabe.

"We shall closely watch his next move," said party spokesman Obert Gutu.

- Addressing the economy -

Mugabe's resignation capped a chaotic week in which the military seized control and tens of thousands of Zimbabweans took to the streets in an unprecedented show of dissent against Mugabe, who left behind an economy in ruins.

"We hope to be able to access our money from the bank come December and the US dollar must come back," said Talent Chamunorwa, 37, a brick seller.

He was referring to Zimbabwe's chronic shortage of cash and a mistrusted scheme for "bond notes" whose value is supposed to be linked to the US currency, but which trade at a significantly lower rate in reality.

The state-run Herald newspaper said in Thursday's edition that "doors will now be open" for economic growth.

Mugabe had ruled Zimbabwe almost unopposed since independence in 1980, eventually becoming the world's oldest serving head of state.

sn-rm-bgs-fj/gw/pvh