By John Cassim and Jeffrey Moyo
President Emerson Mnangagwa paid tribute to his predecessor Robert Mugabe as he took his oath of office Friday.
Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s long-standing deputy until he was ousted two weeks ago, praised the former president for his role as Zimbabwean leader in the 37 years following independence.
“Let me at this stage pay special tribute to the one and only surviving father of our nation Comrade Robert Gabriel Mugabe,” Mnangagwa said.
“He led us in our struggle for national independence. He assumed the responsibilities of leadership at the formative and very challenging time at the birth of our nation. That should be applauded and celebrated for all times.”
The former vice president added: “Whatever errors of commission or omission that could have occurred during that critical phase, in the life of our nation, let us all accept and acknowledge his immense contributions towards the building of our nation.”
Mnangagwa said he still regarded the former president as a father, mentor, comrade-in-arms and leader.
Mugabe, who stood down as president on Tuesday as parliament prepared to impeach him following a military intervention last week, did not attend the inauguration at a stadium in the capital Harare.
The ceremony was attended by regional leaders as well as senior figures from the ruling Zanu-PF and opposition politicians.
In his acceptance speech moments after taking the oath in front of a 60,000-strong crowd, Mnangagwa stood by Mugabe’s land reforms.
He said that the changes instigated in the 1980s that left nearly 4,000 white farmers landless could not be undone.
“Given our historic realities, we wish the rest of the world to understand and appreciate that land reform was inevitable,” he said. “Whilst there is a lot that we may need to do, the principle of repossessing our land cannot be challenged or reversed.”
However, he pledged to compensate those whose land was repossessed.
“My government is committed to compensate those farmers from whom land was taken in terms of our laws,” Mnangagwa told the crowd.
A land commission would urgently assess outstanding land disputes, he added.
As he was sworn-in by Chief Justice Luke Malaba, Mnangagwa promised to “protect and respect the rights of the people of Zimbabwe” and devote himself to the country’s welfare.
Many Zimbabweans caught up in the euphoria of the moment expressed hope for a better future under Zimbabwe’s second president since 1980.
“I personally now look into the fire with hope and I know, under the leadership of President Mnangagwa, industry will open and soon I will also get a job,” Liberty Sigauke, a 33-year-old mechanical engineering graduate, said.
Megan Mbiza, 27, a nurse, was equally optimistic. “Nothing will stop change now,” she said.
“Jobs will be plentiful and I will also get employed because Mnangagwa is not hostile to the developed world and investors will scramble to invest in our country and that means jobs for us.”
However, others remained skeptical, particularly considering Mnangagwa’s role as Mugabe’s right-hand man during much of his rule.
“It’s just the face that has changed in the presidency but Zanu-PF and its notorious traits will never depart,” Martin Sithole, an opposition Movement for Democratic Change activist, said.
Mnangagwa was sacked as vice president in a succession dispute with a faction within Zanu-PF loyal to Mugabe’s wife Grace.
Last week, his allies in the military seized control and placed the Mugabes and their closest aides under house arrest.