Zimbabwe’s next leader arrives home after Mugabe exit

HARARE, Zimbabwe (AFP) — Zimbabwe’s ousted vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa flew home on Wednesday and met with top government and ruling party officials ahead of his inauguration as president on Friday, an aide told AFP.

“He met the ZANU-PF politburo at Manyame airbase… He has already left State House where he was having a de-brief. Inauguration is on Friday,” Larry Mavhima told AFP.

Mnangagwa is to take power after Robert Mugabe’s resignation brought a sudden end to 37 years of authoritarian rule.

Mugabe’s iron grip ended on Tuesday in a shock announcement to parliament where MPs had convened to impeach the 93-year-old who dominated every aspect of Zimbabwean public life for decades.

Mnangagwa, 75, was sacked by the president on November 6 in a move that pushed infuriated army chiefs to intervene, triggering a series of events which led to Mugabe’s ouster.On the streets, the news that his long and often brutal leadership was over sparked wild celebrations which lasted late into the night, with crowds dancing and cheering ecstatically amid a cacophony of car horns.

A former key Mugabe ally, Mnangagwa fled the country after his dismissal, saying he would not return without guarantees of his safety.

His sacking was the result of an increasingly bitter succession battle with first lady Grace Mugabe, who had been pushing to take over from her ageing husband.

“My decision to resign is voluntary,” Mugabe wrote in his resignation letter, expressing his “desire to ensure a smooth, peaceful and non-violent transfer of power.”

Party hardliner

In a highly symbolic scene shortly after his resignation, a man took down a portrait of Mugabe from a wall inside the building where MPs had assembled for the extraordinary session to impeach the defiant president.

Another person replaced it with an image of the ousted vice president.

Mnangagwa is a political veteran long-time party loyalist who has served in a host of different cabinet positions since independence in 1980 and who has close ties with the military.

But critics describe him as a ruthless hardliner behind years of state-sponsored violence, warning he could prove just as authoritarian as his mentor.

And Rinaldo Depagne of the International Crisis Group said Mugabe’s departure “does not necessarily mean more democracy.”

Meeting Zuma

Ahead of his arrival, senior military commanders, official cars and a crowd of journalists gathered at Harare’s Manyame airbase where Mnangagwa was expected to land, AFP correspondents at the scene said.

With anticipation building, South Africa published a photograph of Mnangagwa shaking hands with President Jacob Zuma earlier on Wednesday, both men grinning broadly.

Mugabe’s resignation capped a week in which the military seized control and tens of thousands of Zimbabweans took to the streets in an unprecedented show of dissent against Mugabe.

Mugabe whereabouts unknown

“We want our new president to make sure power-hungry gangs don’t infiltrate,” said Talent Chamunorwa, 37, a brick seller.

“We hope to be able to access our money from the bank come December and the US dollar must come back.”

He was referring to Zimbabwe’s chronic shortage of cash and a mistrusted “bond note” scheme intended to be pegged to the greenback but trading at a lower rate in reality.

Mugabe had ruled Zimbabwe almost unopposed since independence and until his exit, he was also the world’s oldest serving head of state.

But efforts to position his 52-year-old wife Grace as his successor were his undoing.

Mugabe’s fate and that of his wife, remain unknown, but ZANU-PF has said he deserved to be treated with respect after leading the country for nearly four decades.

“He deserves to rest and I believe every Zimbabwean agrees with this,” said Moyo.

“But I think he had overstayed the hospitality of the people of Zimbabwe.”

‘A new path’

Last week’s military takeover had all the hallmarks of a coup, but the generals stopped short of forcing Mugabe out.

As the crisis grew, the ZANU-PF party, an instrument of Mugabe’s brutal reign, removed him as party leader and began parliamentary proceedings to have him impeached.

The international community hailed his exit as a chance to reshape Zimbabwe’s future, with British Prime Minister Theresa May saying it offered “an opportunity to forge a new path free of the oppression” that characterised Mugabe’s rule.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it offered Zimbabwe “an extraordinary opportunity to set itself on a new path.”

And Beijing, which became a major political and economic partner of Harare as it was shunned by the west, said it respected his decision, describing Mugabe as a “good friend of the Chinese people.”

Most Zimbabweans have only known life under Mugabe, whose time in power was defined by violent suppression, economic collapse and international isolation.

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