FILE - President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace arrive to chair ZANU PF's Politburo meeting at the party headquarters in Harare, Feb. 15, 2017.
FILE - President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace arrive to chair ZANU PF's Politburo meeting at the party headquarters in Harare, Feb. 15, 2017.

Former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his wife Grace Mugabe 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.

Mugabe has been negotiating terms of his retirement with Zimbabwean generals and political leaders who forced him to step down Tuesday after 37 years in power.

The military took over state institutions after Mugabe, who is 93, fired vice president Emmerson Mnangagwa on November 5 and suggested he would appoint his much younger wife to the post.

Human rights groups have accused 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.

Mnangagwa's return

Mnangagwa returned to Zimbabwe Wednesday after spending about two weeks in exile. The speaker of parliament says Mnangagwa will be sworn in as the country's new president on Friday.

Zimbabwe's former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagw
Zimbabwe's former Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is to be sworn in to replace Robert Mugabe as president, addresses supporters in Harare, Zimbabwe, Nov. 22, 2017.

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 is known as "The Crocodile" and was a close ally of Mugabe for decades. They are concerned he will run Zimbabwe in the same ruthless fashion as his predecessor.

“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," said Phillippa Mukumba, 37, a Harare business owner.

WATCH: Zimbabweans on their country's future

“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," said Terrence Mawere, a flag seller.

Mawere, incidentally, said he has enjoyed a brisk business this week, selling 350 Zimbabwean flags for prices 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 does not anticipate 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.