HARARE (REUTERS, AFP) - Mr Emmerson Mnangagwa was sworn in on Friday (Nov 24) as President of Zimbabwe in front of thousands of cheering supporters at Harare’s national stadium, bringing the final curtain down on the 37-year rule of Mr Robert Mugabe.
Taking his oath of office, the 75-year-old former security chief known as "The Crocodile" vowed to uphold the constitution of the former British colony and protect the rights of all Zimbabwe’s 16 million citizens.
“I, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, swear that as the President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, I will be faithful to Zimbabwe and obey, uphold and defend the Constitution and all other laws of Zimbabwe,” he said as he took the oath of office before the Chief Justice, watched by a jubilant crowd.
Even though most Zimbabweans celebrated the exit of 93-year-old Mugabe, who presided over the descent into penury and despotism of one of Africa’s brightest prospects, some are worried about the future under Mr Mnangagwa.
In particular, they question his role in the so-called Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland in 1983, when an estimated 20,000 people were killed in a crackdown on Mugabe opponents by the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade.
Mr Mnangagwa has denied any part in the atrocities and since his return to Zimbabwe after two weeks in hiding has been preaching democracy, tolerance and respect for the rule of law.
Just ahead of his swearing-in ceremony on Friday, snipers took up positions around the stadium amid tight security as jubilant Mnangagwa supporters streamed in, with many dancing as music played.
"We are excited and expecting a lot from Mnangagwa. We have been under a dictatorship for a very long time," 23-year-old Sharon Mauyakufa said, referring to Mr Mugabe.
"Mugabe is very old - we do not expect that he will be punished for his crimes. How do you punish a 93-year-old? But his wife and others must be charged if they committed crimes."
The former president, who ruled the southern African country for 37 autocratic years, was ousted from office when the military intervened after he had sacked Mr Mnangagwa as vice president.
"We thank you our soldier," said one banner in the sports ground.
Mr Mugabe is in increasingly frail health and had been positioning his wife Grace as his successor, but the army chiefs acted to halt the plan and usher in Mr Mnangagwa.
State-run media had earlier claimed that Mr Mugabe may even attend his successor's swearing-in - but later suggested that after he and Mr Mnangagwa talked about the inauguration, he agreed he "needed time to rest".
Mr Mnangagwa also "assured him and his family maximum security and welfare" for their future as private citizens and "appraised him of preparations for (Friday's) inauguration," the state-run Herald news site also reported.
Buses brought well-wishers to the 60,000-capacity stadium from the early hours of Friday.
"Come and be an eyewitness of history being made, the historic ushering in (of) a new era and better country," said a statement from the ruling ZANU-PF party calling on people to attend the inauguration.
Mr Mnangagwa, 75, said this week that Zimbabweans were witnessing "a new and unfolding full democracy", though critics say he is a ZANU-PF hardliner who gained power in a de facto military coup.
Ahead of the inauguration, the army warned that criminals had been impersonating soldiers since the crisis to extort money from the public and called on Zimbabweans to obey the law.
Britain, the former colonial power, said it was sending Africa Minister Rory Stewart to the ceremony.
Regional heavyweight South Africa said President Jacob Zuma would not be present as he was hosting a visit by Angola's new head of state.
Mr Zuma praised Mr Mugabe, noting "his contribution to the liberation of the Southern African region and the decolonisation of the continent".
Mr Mugabe had ruled since Zimbabwean independence in 1980, exercising almost total authority to crush any sign of dissent.
The majority of Zimbabweans have only known life under Mr Mugabe - the world's oldest head of state - during a reign defined by brutality, rigged elections and international isolation.
His iron grip on power ended on Tuesday when his resignation letter was delivered to Parliament, where MPs had convened to impeach him.
Mr Mugabe was last seen in public on Friday and gave a defiant televised address on Sunday. Neither he nor his wife Grace, 52, has been seen since.
The main opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change, said it was "cautiously optimistic" that Mr Mnangagwa would not be as "evil, corrupt, decadent" as Mr Mugabe.
In the week before Mr Mugabe resigned, military vehicles rolled down Harare's streets, army generals made a TV address in the early hours and tens of thousands of Zimbabweans demonstrated against the veteran leader.
Zimbabwe's once-promising economy collapsed under Mr Mugabe's rule, and many hope Mr Mnangagwa will push through reforms to bring in investment.
Unemployment is over 90 per cent, and in his first speech after being announced as the next President he promised "jobs, jobs, jobs!"