Tuesday 24 September 2019

Zimbabwe's new president vows to improve country's ailing economy

Crowds gathering for the inauguration of Emmerson Mnangagwa
Crowds gathering for the inauguration of Emmerson Mnangagwa

New Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa says he will work to improve the economy, reduce unemployment and return the country to prosperity.

"Our economic policy will be directed for job, job, job creation," said Mr Mnangagwa to cheers from the crowd of 60,000. Zimbabwe is currently plagued with an unemployment rate estimated to be 80%.

"We must work together. You, me, all of us who make up this nation," he said. He urged the millions of Zimbabweans who have left the country to return to help rebuild the economy.

"I must hit the ground running," said Mr Mnangagwa, emphasising that Zimbabwe's economic problems must be addressed immediately.

Zimbabwe's land redistribution which saw land seized from white farmers and given to black Zimbabweans will not be reversed, he said.

"The rest of the world must understand that our land reform policies were inevitable. The principle of nationalisation of our land cannot be challenged or reversed," he said.

However, Mr Mnangagwa said his incoming government will be "committed to compensating farmers from whom land was taken". He said a land commission would be formed to make sure that properties are farmed productively.

"All foreign investment will be safe in Zimbabwe," said Mr Mnangagwa, addressing fears following moves by former leader Robert Mugabe to nationalise the country's lucrative resources such as diamonds, platinum, gold and chrome. Mr Mnangagwa also said he will tackle corruption that has grown in Zimbabwe.

He said elections will be held next year and said he will work to change Zimbabwe's political climate which he characterised as "poisonous, rancorous and polarised".

Mr Mnangagwa opened his speech by praising outgoing president Mr Mugabe, who resigned on Tuesday, for his role in ending white-minority ruled Rhodesia. Mr Mugabe should be "lauded and celebrated" for his historic role, he said.

Mr Mnangagwa takes power after an extraordinary series of events that ousted Mr Mugabe, who was the world's oldest head of state.

Mr Mnangagwa, fired earlier this month as vice president, takes the helm of Zimbabwe after the resignation of 93-year-old Mr Mugabe, who succumbed to pressure to quit from the military, the ruling party and massive demonstrations amid fears his unpopular wife would succeed him.

A smiling Mr Mnangagwa greeted a stadium crowd of tens of thousands with a raised fist. The military, fresh from putting Mr Mugabe under house arrest just days ago, quickly swore its loyalty to the new leader.

A former justice and defence minister, Mr Mnangagwa was a key confidante of Mr Mugabe for decades until they fell out over the presidential ambitions of Mr Mugabe's wife, Grace.

Mr Mugabe, one of Africa's last remaining liberation leaders, quit as impeachment proceedings began. In the end, he was isolated and showing few of the political skills that kept him in power for 37 years and made him a prominent but polarising figure on the world stage. He had led since Zimbabwe's independence from white minority rule in 1980.

Mr Mugabe did not attend Friday's swearing-in, and ruling party officials have said he will remain in Zimbabwe with their promise that he is "safe" and his legacy as a "hero" will stand after his fight for an independent Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's state-run Herald newspaper reported that Mr Mnangagwa assured Mr Mugabe and his family of their "maximum security". The report said the two men agreed Mr Mugabe would not attend on Friday because he "needed time to rest".

Ahead of the inauguration people danced in the stadium stands. Banners read "Dawn of a new era" and "No to retribution", even as human rights activists began to report worrying details of attacks on close allies of the former first lady and their families. Mr Mnangagwa has warned against "vengeful retribution".

Tendai Lesayo held a small Zimbabwean flag as she sold drinks outside the stadium. She said she would welcome a fresh start, saying "life now is impossible".

Elsewhere in the capital, long lines formed outside banks, a common sight in a nation struggling with cash shortages and other severe economic problems that the new president will have to confront.

"Right now, nothing has really changed for me. I still cannot get my money from the bank," said Amon Mutora, who had been in line since 6am.

"Attending the inauguration will not bring food for my family," said Kelvin Fungai, a 19-year-old selling bananas from a cart. Many young people are well-educated but jobless, reduced to street vending to survive. Others have left the country.

Elsewhere, there were signs of hope amid the uncertainty. Black market rates for cash have tumbled since Mr Mugabe left office. Before he stepped down, one had to deposit 170 dollars into a black market dealer's bank account to get 100 dollars cash. On Friday, 100 dollars cash was selling for between 140 dollars and 150 dollars.

As the inauguration crowds streamed by, Sharon Samuriwo sat on a ledge, watching. She said she hoped Mr Mnangagwa would learn from the errors of his predecessor, and she acknowledged that the path ahead for Zimbabwe is unknown.

Still, "after 37 years, we've got someone different," she said.


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