Mnangagwa promises jobs and democratic elections in first speech

Zimbabwe’s new president hits right notes at swearing in after toppling of Mugabe

Emmerson Mnangagwa has been sworn in as president of Zimbabwe in front of thousands of cheering supporters at Harare’s national stadium.

 

Zimbabwe’s new leader hit all the right notes during his maiden public address as president on Friday, promising job creation, an end to government corruption, the security of foreign investment, and democratic elections next year.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s inaugural speech at the National Sports Stadium in Harare took place in front of tens of thousands of citizens and regional dignitaries. He said he was “deeply humbled” to be given the role.

“The task at hand is that of rebuilding our country,” he said after taking his oath of office.

Mr Mnangagwa also paid tribute to his predecessor, former president Robert Mugabe, who resigned from office on Tuesday just as his ruling Zanu-PF party comrades were about to impeach him.

He called the 93-year-old “a father, mentor, comrade-in-arms and my leader”.

Mr Mugabe, who initially refused to stand down following a military takeover earlier this month that left him under house arrest, was not present at the event. He has been allowed to continue residing in Zimbabwe, but officials indicated he was absent because, at his age, “he needed to rest”.

Mr Mnangagwa had long-held ambitions to lead the country, but his chance seemed to have gone when he was sacked by Mr Mugabe earlier this month in a move that paved the way for the president’s wife, Grace, to succeed him.

Nicknamed “the Crocodile” because of his ruthlessness, Mr Mnangagwa was subsequently forced to flee for his life. However, his allies in the military stepped in and returned him to centre stage.

Daunting task

The task of rebuilding Zimbabwe is a daunting one: unemployment is more than 80 per cent, the economy has been crippled by mismanagement, and there has been no meaningful investment in decades.

Furthermore, serious concerns remain around whether Mr Mnangagwa, who is a party hardliner accused of widespread human rights abuses, is willing to embrace a truly democratic approach to governance.

Perhaps with this in mind, and knowing the world was watching, the 75-year-old set about outlining his vision for Zimbabwe’s future during Friday’s speech.

With opposition parties watching on, he urged Zimbabweans to move beyond the poisoned politics of the recent past saying, “We dare not squander this moment.”

He promised that “democratic” elections would be held next year, as scheduled, and maintained that government corruption would become a thing of the past. “The culture of government must change, and change now,” he said.

Mr Mnangagwa went on to say that agriculture would be one of the pillars upon which the country’s new economy would be built, but he maintained that the land reform policy that Mr Mugabe began to implement 17 years ago would not be reversed.

Under the controversial policy nearly 4,000 white commercial farmers were violently expelled from their land without compensation, and their farms were redistributed to indigenous Zimbabweans. In many instances, however, Mr Mugabe gave the farms to his cronies as payment for their loyalty.

Inevitable policies

Nevertheless, Mr Mnangagwa insisted there would be no reversal of the land redistribution that had taken place, saying the policies that led to it were inevitable. “The principle of nationalisation of our land cannot be challenged or reversed,” he said.

However, he promised his incoming government would be “committed to compensating farmers from whom land was taken”.

Addressing investor fears around Mr Mugabe’s move in recent years to nationalise the country’s lucrative resources, particularly in the mining sector, he insisted that “all foreign investment will be safe in Zimbabwe”.

Mr Mnangagwa also called on skilled Zimbabweans to return to the country. Since 2000, millions of Zimbabweans have left in search of work, with an estimated two million alone now residing across the border in South Africa.