HARARE, Zimbabwe - Zimbabweans must set aside â€śpoisonedâ€ť politics and work together to rebuild the nation and re-engage the world, new President Emmerson Mnangagwa said Friday, delivering an inclusive message to an exultant crowd that packed a stadium for his inauguration.
Mnangagwa, blamed for a number of the crackdowns and damaging policies of his mentor and predecessor, the ousted Robert Mugabe, also promised that â€śdemocraticâ€ť elections will be held on schedule in 2018 and that foreign investment will be safe in Zimbabwe, a message aimed at laying the groundwork for economic revival.
â€śWe dare not squander the moment,â€ť Mnangagwa said in a speech whose sense of promise matched the joyful mood of a nation hungry for change after Mugabeâ€™s 37-year rule. The former leader resigned Tuesday after pressure from the military, former allies in the ruling party and massive street protests.
Helicopters and planes flew in formation, an artillery unit fired a 21-gun salute, honor guards with fixed bayonets high-stepped and Zimbabwean pop star Jah Prayzah had people dancing on a day celebrating a new stage in the nationâ€™s history. Such an occasion had seemed almost impossible to contemplate for many Zimbabweans as the years dragged on under the 93-year-old Mugabe, who took power after the end of white minority rule in 1980.
Mnangagwa, 75, was fired as vice president by Mugabe on Nov. 6 in a dispute over the growing presidential ambitions of Mugabeâ€™s unpopular wife, Grace. The former justice and defense minister, however, had been one of Mugabeâ€™s closest confidants, raising questions about just how much change and reconciliation there will be on his watch.
The new president praised Mugabe, who will remain in the country but did not attend the inauguration, for his â€śimmense contributionâ€ť to Zimbabweâ€™s emergence as a nation after a guerrilla war by black nationalists. However, he sought to reinforce the idea of a â€śnew Zimbabwe,â€ť a refrain commonly heard in the streets of the capital, Harare.