Zimbabwe's incoming president returns, promises crowd a new democracy

Emmerson Mnangagwa said Wednesday in his first public speech since being announced as Zimbabwe’s incoming leader that the country is witnessing a “new and unfolding democracy.”

He addressed a huge crowd outside ruling party headquarters in Harare, just hours after returning to the country. He fled earlier this month after his firing by Robert Mugabe, who resigned on Tuesday under pressure from the military and ruling party.

Mnangagwa says the pressure to “derail the process” of getting Mugabe to step down was intense, but “the will of the people will always, always succeed.”

He will be sworn in Friday morning.

Mnangagwa thanked the people “in the name of our lord” and described recent attempts to kill him.

He was introduced as “president in waiting” by a speaker who praised Zimbabwe’s military as “the most disciplined army in the world” during the past week’s events, which led to Mugabe’s resignation.

Earlier Wednesday, Mnangagwa emerged from hiding, departing from neighbouring South Africa to return home in preparation to take power. 

The 75-year-old Mnangagwa fled Zimbabwe after Mugabe fired him earlier this month, leading the military to move in and kick off a series of extraordinary events ending in Mugabe stepping down Tuesday amid impeachment proceedings.

Mnangagwa met with South African President Jacob Zuma in a jovial “courtesy call” before taking a private jet from Johannesburg to Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare. He was reported to have arrived at the ruling party’s headquarters, where he would be briefed by officials.

The ruling ZANU-PF party notified him of its nomination of Mnangagwa to replace Mugabe until the end of the term next year.

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In Harare, Zimbabweans celebrate in the morning sun Wednesday after Mugabe resigned. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

Earlier Wednesday, several hundred people gathered in anticipation of his arrival. Some carried signs with images of him, reading “Welcome back, our hero” and “True to your word, you’re back. Welcome.”

A man in the crowd, Godwin Nyarugwa, said he was “very ecstatic” and that “we need change in this country, change in everything.”

Zimbabwe has been through “crisis after crisis” and Mnangagwa seems best suited to lead the country forward, said Nyarugwa, who has several university degrees but no job.

“We have to try him and see,” he said. “If he doesn’t come up with something, we need to change him as well.”

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Zimbabweans celebrate after the resignation. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

Zimbabweans were reeling from Mugabe’s resignation. They cheered and danced in the streets of Harare late into the night, thrilled to be rid of a leader whose early promise after the end of white minority rule in 1980 was overtaken by economic collapse, government dysfunction and human rights violations.

Now the focus turns to Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s longtime deputy who was pushed aside earlier this month as Mugabe’s unpopular wife, Grace Mugabe, positioned herself to replace him and succeed her husband. Mnangagwa fled the country, claiming threats against his life.

That led the military to step in a week ago, opening the door for the ruling party and the people to publicly turn against the president.

It was not clear what the 93-year-old Robert Mugabe and his wife would do next. Mugabe, who was the world’s oldest head of state, said in his resignation letter that legal procedures should be followed to install a new president “no later than tomorrow.”

‘Adios Bob’

Zimbabweans woke up to the first day in 37 years without Mugabe in power. With some nursing hangovers, they looked over newspaper headlines such as “Adios Bob and Ta-ta President.”

Margaret Evans swarmed by jubilant Zimbabweans on the streets of Harare0:30

“I think this change of government is like a new breath of fresh air right across the country,” said Patrick Musira on the streets of the capital. “Everyone was engulfed with excitement and they are looking for a better future, a brighter future with work.”

Zimbabwe’s new leaders are faced with a once-prosperous nation whose economy has collapsed, sending well-educated but frustrated young people into desperate work as street vendors. Many have left the country altogether.

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Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s longtime deputy who was pushed aside earlier this month as Mugabe’s wife, Grace Mugabe, positioned herself to replace him and succeed her husband. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

New leader once a Mugabe enforcer

Mnangagwa is a former justice and defence minister who served for decades as Mugabe’s enforcer, a role that earned him the nickname Crocodile. Many opposition supporters believe he was instrumental in the army killings of thousands of people when Mugabe moved against a political rival in the 1980s.

So far in the current political turmoil, Mnangagwa has used inclusive language, saying in a statement hours before Mugabe’s resignation that all Zimbabweans should work together to advance their nation.

‘Never should the nation be held at ransom by one person ever again, whose desire is to die in office at whatever cost to the nation.’–  Emmerson Mnangagwa, incoming Zimbabwe president

“Never should the nation be held at ransom by one person ever again, whose desire is to die in office at whatever cost to the nation,” Mnangagwa said.

In a new commentary, the state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper stressed the importance of presidential term limits, saying Zimbabweans will “never again go back into a box of silence.”

It added: “We hope that when [Mnangagwa] finishes his stint in State House the cheers will be for a job well done … He has the best wishes of most Zimbabweans, at least today.”

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