Zimbabwe’s New Leader Stirs Fears That He Resembles the Old One

Zimbabwe’s New Leader Stirs Fears That He Resembles the Old One

“We should never remain hostages of our past,” Mr. Mnangagwa said, adding that his compatriots should “let bygones be bygones, readily embracing each other in defining a new destiny in our beloved Zimbabwe.”

The tens of thousands present in the stadium — most of them ZANU-PF die-hards who had been bused into the capital, Harare, from distant towns and villages in the party’s rural strongholds — loudly cheered Mr. Mnangagwa and hailed him as a “hero” and “liberator.”

Emerson Zinyera, 54, a retired police officer, said: “Today is true independence day. The one that was there was false. Today is independence that everyone, every Zimbabwean, can enjoy, not independence enjoyed by two people, Mugabe and his wife, Grace.”

But even as Mr. Mnangagwa promised a new era of democracy, the new leader, who was long known as Mr. Mugabe’s ruthless enforcer, faced a far more doubtful nation.

As the euphoria over the end of the Mugabe era began to subside, many opposition politicians, rights activists, ordinary citizens and even some party members were expressing concerns about entrusting a new Zimbabwe to a leader so closely tied to the old.

“This is a happy day,” said Virginia Kamoto, 34, a ZANU-PF member who was bused in with other supporters from southern Zimbabwe. “I was personally tired of Mugabe, who had stayed for far too long in power. I hope President Mnangagwa will not overstay in power. I hope he will not repress the people or tolerate corruption so that our country will be counted among the great nations of the world.”

Mr. Mnangagwa’s exact role in the military intervention that led to Mr. Mugabe’s downfall is not yet known. But on Wednesday, just hours after returning to Zimbabwe from South Africa, Mr. Mnangagwa thanked the generals who had backed him, saying he had been “in constant contact with the service chiefs throughout” the recent events.


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After nearly four decades in power, Zimbabwe’s ruler, Robert Mugabe, resigned in the wake of a military takeover. How did the notorious strongman manage to keep his opponents at bay for so long?

By BARBARA MARCOLINI and SARAH STEIN KERR on Publish Date November 21, 2017.

Photo by Jekesai Njikizana/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images.

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The victory of Mr. Mnangagwa and the military — over a ZANU-PF faction led by Mr. Mugabe’s 52-year-old wife, Grace, and younger politicians with no experience in the nation’s war of liberation — underscored the old guard’s enduring grip on power, not only in Zimbabwe but also in nations like Angola, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa.

In all those countries, former liberation movements have held uninterrupted power over decades through a combination of patronage, coercion and, in some cases, outright military force.

In his 37-minute speech, Mr. Mnangagwa emphasized rebuilding the country’s economy by, in part, re-engaging with Western nations that cut off most ties with Zimbabwe after the seizure of white-owned farms starting in 2000. Mr. Mnangagwa said that compensation would be offered to those who had lost their properties, signaling his commitment to a process that had begun fitfully in recent years.

Mr. Mnangagwa reached out to rivals, though only in general terms. He praised the man he had helped topple by saying that “history will grant him his proper place and accord him his deserved stature as one of the founding fathers and leaders of our nation.”

“To me personally, he remains a father, mentor, comrade in arms and my leader,” he said of Mr. Mugabe, who did not attend the inauguration.

But whether his conciliatory words translate to action remains to be seen. Local and international organizations have said that several leaders of the losing faction were arrested and detained by the army, which is not authorized to do so. Some are still missing, their homes have been ransacked and their relatives beaten, human rights groups say.

For years, Mr. Mnangagwa, who served as Mr. Mugabe’s personal assistant and bodyguard during the war of liberation, had seemed a natural heir. As one of Mr. Mugabe’s top lieutenants, he has been accused of spearheading Mr. Mugabe’s most ruthless policies — including the massacre of thousands of civilians in the early 1980s, the invasion of white-owned farms in 2000 and the violent rigging of polls during the 2008 election.

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