As Zimbabwe prepared to swear in a new leader for the first time in 37 years, attention turned to the fate of Robert Mugabe and the wife who just days ago was poised to succeed him.
The 93-year-old Mr Mugabe, who resigned on Tuesday as politicians started impeaching him, has not spoken publicly since his stunning speech on Sunday night defying calls from the military, ruling party and the people to step down.
Mr Mugabe appeared to remain in the capital, Harare, with former first lady Grace, but it was not clear under what terms.
A new photo circulating on social media said to be taken this week showed Mr Mugabe and his wife sitting on a sofa with advisers standing behind them.
The photo shows a dejected-looking Grace Mugabe looking off camera while Mr Mugabe’s eyes are closed.
Emmerson Mnangagwa will be sworn in this morning as the country’s new leader at a 60,000-seat stadium after making a triumphant return to the country.
He fled shortly after being fired as Zimbabwe’s vice president earlier this month, claiming threats to his life.
Mr Mnangagwa’s speech to a cheering crowd on Wednesday night outside ruling party headquarters promised “a new, unfolding democracy” and efforts to rebuild a shattered economy. But he also recited slogans from the ruling Zanu-PF party, declaring death to “enemies,” that are unlikely to reassure the opposition.
The opposition party MDC-T, which supported Mr Mugabe’s removal, said it was closely watching Mr Mnangagwa’s next moves, “particularly regarding the dismantling of all the oppressive pillars of repression”.
The pastor who led large anti-government protests last year, Evan Mawarire, said Zimbabweans should let Mr Mnangagwa know the country should be for everyone and not just the ruling party.
Mr Mnangagwa is a former justice and defence minister with close ties to the military. He served for decades as Mr Mugabe’s enforcer, a role that earned him the nickname “Crocodile”. Many opposition supporters believe he was instrumental in the army killings of thousands of people when Mr Mugabe moved against a political rival in the 1980s. He remains on a US sanctions list over allegations of violently cracking down on opponents.
Mr Mnangagwa, who fled Zimbabwe after being fired on November 6, was in hiding during the week-long political drama that led to Mr Mugabe’s resignation. His appearance on Wednesday, flanked by heavy security, delighted supporters who hope he can guide Zimbabwe out of political and economic turmoil that has exacted a heavy toll on the southern African nation of 16 million. The 75-year-old said he had received messages of support from other countries. “We need the co-operation of the continent of Africa,” he said. “We need the co-operation of our friends outside the continent.”
Mr Mnangagwa will serve Mr Mugabe’s remaining term until elections next year. Opposition politicians who have alleged vote rigging in the past say balloting must be free and fair – a call the United States and others have echoed.
Mr Mugabe’s firing of his long-time deputy as the first lady positioned herself to succeed her husband led the military to step in, putting under house arrest the man who took power after the end of white minority rule in 1980.
His resignation has been met with wild celebrations by people thrilled to be rid of a leader whose early promise was overtaken by economic collapse, government dysfunction and human rights violations.
An editorial in the privately run NewsDay newspaper said Mr Mnangagwa had “an unenviable task”.