Mnangagwa, the 'Crocodile,' to be sworn in as Zimbabwe president

By MacDonald Dzirutwe

 

HARARE (Reuters) - Emmerson Mnangagwa will cap a stunning political comeback on Friday when he is sworn in as Zimbabwe's president, bringing the final curtain down on the 37-year rule of Robert Mugabe.

 

Even though most Zimbabweans are jubilant at the exit of 93-year-old Mugabe, who had led Zimbabwe from independence in 1980, the army's detention and rough treatment of pro-Mugabe ministers is worrying human rights groups.

 

Mugabe, the world's oldest serving head of state, resigned on Tuesday as parliament began a process to impeach him, a week after the army stepped in to seize power.

 

Mnangagwa assured Mugabe he and his family would be safe in Zimbabwe when the two men spoke for the first time since Mnangagwa returned home this week, the state-owned The Herald newspaper reported on Friday.

They agreed that Mugabe may not attend Mnangagwa's swearing-in ceremony because of fatigue, the paper added.

Mugabe's sudden fall had been triggered by a battle to succeed him that pitted Mnangagwa against Mugabe's much younger wife Grace.

Just two weeks ago, she seemed to have the upper hand after Mugabe fired Mnangagwa on Nov. 6 as vice president for showing "traits of disloyalty".

That prompted Mnangagwa, 75, long one of Mugabe's most trusted lieutenants, to flee the country in fear for his life. It also brought tanks into the streets.

"VENGEFUL RETRIBUTION"

Addressing a cheering crowd in Harare on Wednesday night after his return, Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe was entering a new stage of democracy after what analysts are terming a "soft coup" against Mugabe.

"The people have spoken. The voice of the people is the voice of God," he told thousands of supporters.

However, there are growing signs that the military's intervention on the side of Mnangagwa is far from soft, with reports of harassment of politicians loyal to Grace's G40 political faction.

Former finance minister Ignatius Chombo was admitted to hospital on Friday with injuries sustained from beatings he received during a week in military custody, his lawyer, Lovemore Madhuku, said. Chombo was blindfolded throughout, he added.

"It was a very brutal and draconian way of dealing with opponents," Madhuku told Reuters.

In the last 24 hours, rights groups said relatives of former pro-Mugabe ministers had also been harassed.

Mugabe was granted immunity from prosecution as part of a deal that led to his resignation, sources close to the negotiations said on Thursday.

Some Mnangagwa supporters have called for unspecified action against G40 and Grace, who was known as "Gucci Grace" for her reputed dedication to shopping, an affront to many in a country with an unemployment rate of 90 percent.

On Thursday, Mnangagwa urged Zimbabweans not to undertake "vengeful retribution".

BLOODSHED OF 1980S

Rebuilding a shattered economy and restoring investor confidence will be at the top of the agenda for Mnangagwa, who carries his own baggage after decades of service to Mugabe, who was widely accused of resorting to human rights abuses and election-rigging.

Mnangagwa earned the nickname "Ngwena", Shona for crocodile, an animal famed and feared in Zimbabwean lore for stealth and ruthlessness.

Mnangagwa backed Mugabe's economic nationalism, especially a drive to force foreign firms to hand majority stakes to local blacks, suggesting he may not be the pro-market pragmatist many investors have been hoping for.

Most controversially, he was in charge of internal security in the mid-1980s when Mugabe deployed a crack North Korean-trained brigade against rebels loyal to his rival Joshua Nkomo.

Rights groups say 20,000 civilians, mostly from the Ndebele tribe, were killed. Mugabe denies genocide or crimes against humanity but has admitted it was a "moment of madness".

Mnangagwa's role remains shrouded in mystery.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change said it was cautiously optimistic a Mnangagwa presidency would not "mimic and replicate the evil, corrupt, decadent and incompetent Mugabe regime".

The Southern African Development Community said it was ready to work closely with Mnangagwa.

Zimbabwe's bourse, which had been on a rapid rise, lost $6 billion during this month's military intervention as its main index fell by 40 percent. Analysts say it will fall even further before recovering.

(Additional reporting by Ed Cropley in Johannesburg; Writing by Ed Stoddard and Alexander Winning; editing by Ralph Boulton)

 
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