HARARE, Zimbabwe—As Zimbabwe on Thursday prepared to swear in a new leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa, after 37 years, attention turned to the fate of Robert Mugabe and his wife.
The 93-year-old Mugabe, who resigned on Tuesday as lawmakers began impeaching him, has not been seen outside a few photographs since his stunning speech to the nation on Sunday night in which he defied calls to step down.
He is said to remain in the capital, Harare, with former first lady Grace but it is not clear under what terms. Some are wondering whether he has secured guarantees of protection, including immunity from prosecution.
A photo circulating on social media late Wednesday, said to be taken this week, showed Mugabe and his wife sitting on a sofa with a trio of advisers standing behind them. A dejected-looking Grace Mugabe, who earlier this month was poised to replace Mnangagwa after his firing as vice-president, looks off-camera while Robert Mugabe’s eyes are closed. The photo could not immediately be verified.
Mnangagwa is set to be sworn in Friday after making a triumphant return to the country. He had fled after his firing, claiming threats to his life.
He greeted a cheering crowd Wednesday night outside ruling party headquarters and promised “a new, unfolding democracy.” He also reached out to the world, saying international help is needed to rebuild the shattered economy.
Mnangagwa, who fled Zimbabwe upon being fired as vice-president on Nov. 6, returned a day after Mugabe resigned. Mugabe’s departure followed a week of intense pressure — from the military that staged a government takeover, from members of parliament who started impeachment proceedings and from citizens who protested in the streets.
While Mnangagwa talked in his speech about “working together,” he also recited slogans from the ruling ZANU-PF party that are unlikely to attract Zimbabweans in the opposition.
Mnangagwa, a former justice and defence minister with close ties to the military, 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.
Mnangagwa was in hiding during the political drama that led to Mugabe’s resignation. His presence Wednesday, flanked by heavy security, delighted supporters who hope he can guide Zimbabwe out of political and economic turmoil that has exacted a heavy toll on the southern African nation of 16 million.
The 75-year-old said he had already received messages of support from other countries. “We need the co-operation of the continent of Africa,” he said. “We need the co-operation of our friends outside the continent.”
After meeting with South African President Jacob Zuma, Mnangagwa flew home in a private jet. He indicated that his inauguration as president will be on Friday. That is “when we finish this job to legally install a new president,” he said.
Mnangagwa will serve Mugabe’s remaining term until elections next year after the ruling party’s Central Committee voted to remove Mugabe from his party leadership post. Opposition lawmakers who have alleged vote-rigging in the past say that balloting must be free and fair.
Mugabe’s firing of his longtime deputy as the first lady positioned herself to succeed her husband led the military to step in a week ago, sending tanks into the streets and putting the president under house arrest. That opened the door for the party and the people to turn against the leader who took power after the end of white minority rule in 1980.
Mugabe’s resignation has been met with wild celebrations. People were thrilled to be rid of a leader whose early promise was overtaken by economic collapse, government dysfunction and human rights violations.
Mnangagwa “faces high expectations but will have a short honeymoon while he starts the process of moving Zimbabwe forward,” the state-run Zimbabwe Herald newspaper said in a commentary. “He has the best wishes of most Zimbabweans, at least today.”