We must work together, new leader declares
Zimbabwe's new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, vowed yesterday that he will work to reduce crushing unemployment and return the country to prosperity after years of decline, as the nation cheered a new beginning after the extraordinary exit of Robert Mugabe.
"Our economic policy will be directed for job, job, job creation," Mnangagwa told the crowd of 60,000 witnessing his inauguration at a stadium in the capital, Harare. Zimbabwe's unemployment rate is estimated to be 80 per cent.
"We must work together, you, me, all of us who make up this nation," Mnangagwa said, urging the millions of frustrated Zimbabweans who have left the country to return.
Mnangagwa, fired earlier this month as vice-president, takes power after the whirlwind events that ousted the 93-year-old Mugabe, who had been the world's oldest head of state. Mugabe succumbed to pressure to quit from the military, the ruling party and massive demonstrations amid fears his unpopular wife would succeed him.
The new president's speech struck notes of inclusion and reconciliation after years of growing despair over Mugabe's 37-year rule.
"We should never remain hostages of our past," the longtime Mugabe ally said, urging the nation to let bygones be bygones. "We ask those who have punished us in the past to reconsider."
Mnangagwa said farmers would be compensated for the often forceful land seizures that drew international condemnation and sanctions and contributed to the country's economic slide. But the programme that saw land taken from white farmers and given to black Zimbabweans will not be reversed, he said.
The new president also sought to reassure the international community and attract badly needed investment.
"All foreign investment will be safe in Zimbabwe," Mnangagwa said, addressing fears following Mugabe's moves to nationalise lucrative resources such as diamonds, platinum and gold. Mnangagwa also pledged that "democratic" elections will be held next year as planned, and promised to change the "poisonous, rancorous and polarised" political climate.
And yet he opened his speech by praising Mugabe, who is regarded well by many in Africa for his role in ending white-minority ruled Rhodesia and taking power in 1980. Mugabe should be "lauded and celebrated," Mnangagwa said, to tepid applause.