HARARE • Zimbabwe's incoming president Emmerson Mnangagwa was preparing yesterday to take power after the resignation of Mr Robert Mugabe brought 37 years of authoritarian rule to an end.
Mr Mnangagwa, 75, who has close ties to the army and the security establishment, returned to the country on Wednesday to take the reins, and told adoring crowds in Harare that they were witnessing "unfolding full democracy".
He will be sworn in as president at an inauguration ceremony today, officials said. The speech was his first after Mr Mugabe fired him as vice-president on Nov 6 over a succession tussle with the former first lady, a move that prompted the military's intervention to force Mr Mugabe from power, leading to his resignation on Tuesday.
"Today we are witnessing the beginning of a new and unfolding full democracy in our country," he said in front of hundreds of supporters, some wearing shirts emblazoned with images of the leader.
"We want to grow our economy, we want jobs... All patriotic Zimbabweans (should) come together, work together," he said.
"The people have spoken. The voice of the people is the voice of God," Mr Mnangagwa added.
He was surrounded by a large security detail and arrived at the headquarters of the ruling Zanu-PF party in a presidential-style motorcade.
FULL DEMOCRACY UNFOLDING
Today we are witnessing the beginning of a new and unfolding full democracy in our country. We want to grow our economy, we want jobs... All patriotic Zimbabweans (should) come together, work together.
ZIMBABWE'S INCOMING PRESIDENT EMMERSON MNANGAGWA
Two young men held a stuffed crocodile above their heads, a reference to Mr Mnangagwas's nickname, earned for his reputation for stealth and ruthlessness. "Great speech all round, can't describe how I felt seeing him after what he went through. All I want is job creation," said Mr Remigio Mutero, 30, an unemployed IT graduate.
Mr Mnangagwa had flown in earlier to Harare's Manyame airbase from South Africa, and met key Zanu-PF officials before heading to the State House.
The army appears to have engineered a trouble-free path to power for Mr Mnangagwa, who was for decades a faithful lieutenant of Mugabe and member of his elite.
His own human rights record is controversial. He was in charge of internal security when rights groups say 20,000 civilians were killed in the 1980s.
In its first official comments since Mr Mugabe resigned, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said it was cautiously optimistic that a Mnangagwa presidency would not "mimic and replicate the evil, corrupt, decadent and incompetent Mugabe regime".
The state-run Herald newspaper said that "doors will now be open" for investment and job creation.
"(Mr Mnangagwa) was very blunt in his remarks about what we needed on the economic front: jobs, jobs, jobs... These must be real jobs, paying what they are worth," The Herald said in an article yesterday.
But critics describe Mr Mnangagwa as a ruthless hardliner who was behind years of state-sponsored violence, warning that he could prove just as authoritarian as his mentor.
Mr Rinaldo Depagne of the International Crisis Group said Mr Mugabe's departure "does not necessarily mean more democracy".
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS