WASHINGTON / HARARE —
Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was fired Nov. 5 from his position as Zimbabwe's vice president, will be sworn in as president Friday morning, ending 37 years of authoritarian rule by Robert Mugabe.
In a dramatic turn of events, Mnangagwa, who was relieved of his position amid a succession struggle with Mugabe's wife, Grace, is scheduled to take the oath shortly before noon local time. The event will be held at the 60,000-seat National Sports Stadium in Harare.
Mnangagwa, 75, had spent the previous two weeks in exile. He spoke to cheering crowds in Harare upon his return to Zimbabwe Wednesday night and struck a conciliatory note, urging Zimbabweans to "bury our differences and rebuild a new and prosperous Zimbabwe, a country that is tolerant to divergent views."
Known as "the Crocodile," he has close ties to Zimbabwe's army. Among the many tests he faces will be rebuilding the country's economy, which was left shattered by nearly four decades of Mugabe's rule.
Immunity for Mugabes
Mugabe and his wife have been granted immunity from prosecution. An official in the ruling ZANU-PF party and a Harare journalist confirmed the development to VOA's Zimbabwe service on Thursday.
Robert Mugabe has been negotiating terms of his retirement with Zimbabwean generals and political leaders who forced him to step down Tuesday.
The military took over state institutions after Mugabe, 93, fired Mnangagwa and suggested he would appoint his wife, 52, to the post.
Human rights groups have accused Robert Mugabe of rigging elections, allowing large-scale corruption, and being responsible for the torture and killing of thousands of political opponents during his long rule.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has urged Zimbabwe's new leaders to ensure the country holds free and fair elections.
"The people of Zimbabwe must choose their own leaders," he said Tuesday.
Some Zimbabweans told VOA they have concerns about Mnangagwa, who was a close ally of Robert Mugabe for decades. They are concerned he will run Zimbabwe in the same ruthless fashion as his predecessor.
WATCH: Zimbabweans Want Change Post-Mugabe, and They Want it Soon
Better or worse?
“It’s like the person who is coming was there before, and we don’t know what he is thinking because of the previous things that he and the other ZANU people were doing. I don’t know if those things are going to change, or if we’re going for the worse," Phillippa Mukumba, 37, a Harare business owner, said.
“Mnangagwa, and the government before — it’s the same. So what did they change? ... If I’m looking at it, we are going to struggle the same way. So we want something in Zimbabwe which is better," Terrence Mawere, a flag seller, said.
Mawere, incidentally, said he had enjoyed a brisk business this week, selling 350 Zimbabwean flags at prices ranging from $2 to $10.
John Campbell, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said because Mnangagwa played such a key role in Mugabe's administration, he did not expect a dramatic change in the style of governance in the short term.
"Nevertheless, the fact that there has been a coup, the fact that Mugabe has resigned, opens the range of possibilities," Campbell told VOA. "Whether or not the Zimbabwean people will take advantage of that, it is too soon to tell."
Ntungamili Nkomo and Anita Powell contributed to this report.