ZIMBABWE — Emmerson Mnangagwa has been sworn in as Zimbabwe’s new leader, following Robert Mugabe’s resignation this week after nearly four decades of rule.
Mnangagwa, the country’s former vice president, swore an oath of office to serve as interim president until a leader is elected at the polls next year. He is expected to contest the election as well.
“I, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, swear that as 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.
Tens of thousands of people filled the cavernous National Sports Stadium in the capital, Harare, with African leaders and other dignitaries among them to watch the historic moment.
Known as “The Crocodile” for his political cunning and longevity, Mnangagwa fled the country after Mugabe fired him earlier this month, a dismissal that triggered the political turmoil and an apparent military coup in Harare.
Mnangagwa returned to Zimbabwe on Wednesday, a day after Mugabe’s resignation, and vowed to take the country into a new era of democracy and to rebuild the economy that rotted under Mugabe’s decades-long iron grip.
But critics have questioned whether Mnangagwa — who is said to have been behind some of Mugabe’s most ruthless policies — is able to bring about reforms and return civil liberties to a people who have been oppressed for so long.
Mnangagwa served as Mugabe’s right-hand man for decades and many Zimbabweans say he represents the status quo.
While working with Mugabe, he headed up the feared intelligence agency as well as the defense and justice ministries during times of state oppression and brutality, and is tainted by accusations of his involvement in the Matebeleland massacres in the 1980s.
“Knowing Emmerson Mnangawa, his character, he will have to work very hard to change his character so that he can define the future of the country and define his future as a democrat, as a reformer. That I doubt,” leader of the main opposition MDC-T, Morgan Tsvangiriai, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Thursday.
But Tsvangirai attended the ceremony Friday, in a sign that he may be willing to cooperate with Mnangagwa’s administration.
There was no sign of Robert or Grace Mugabe at the ceremony. Zimbabwe’s state newspaper, The Herald, reported Mugabe may not attend, saying he needed time to rest.
The former president is likely to live out his last days in the comfort of his grand home in Zimbabwe. The couple was granted immunity from prosecution, the military has told CNN. Their safety has been guaranteed and they will be allowed to keep several of their properties.
Grace Mugabe had her own ambitions to take over the presidency. The military, determined to keep her from office, intervened when Mnangagwa was fired, fearing Grace Mugabe’s ascension.