Zimbabwe’s new leader Emmerson Mnangagwa told a cheering crowd in Harare on Wednesday that the country was entering a new stage of democracy following Robert Mugabe’s removal as president after nearly four decades in power.
Mnangagwa returned to the country earlier in the day, having fled for his safety when the 93-year-old former leader sacked him as vice president two weeks ago to smooth a path to the succession for his much younger wife Grace.
“The people have spoken. The voice of the people is the voice of God,” Mnangagwa told thousands of supporters gathered outside the ruling ZANU-PF party’s offices in the capital.
“Today we are witnessing the beginning of a new and unfolding democracy.”
Zimbabwe was once one of Africa’s most promising economies but suffered decades of decline as Mugabe pursued policies that included the violent seizure of white-owned commercial farms and money-printing that led to hyperinflation.
Most of its 16 million people remain poor and face currency shortages and sky-high unemployment, something Mnangagwa promised to address.
“We want to grow our economy, we want peace in our country, we want jobs, jobs, jobs,” he told the crowd, adding: “The will of the people will always, always succeed.”
Parliamentary speaker Jacob Mudenda said on Wednesday that Mnangagwa would be sworn in as president on Friday after being nominated by ZANU-PF to fill the vacancy left by Mugabe.
“Mugabe has gone but I don’t see Mnangagwa doing anything different from that old man. This is not the change I expected but let us give him time,” said security guard Edgar Mapuranga, who sat by a bank cash machine that was out of money.
Restoring the country’s fortunes and international standing will be a challenge. Alleged human rights abuses and flawed elections prompted many Western countries to impose sanctions in the early 2000s that further hurt the economy, even with Chinese investment to soften the blow.