HARARE, ZIMBABWE - The Zimbabwe High Court ruled Saturday that the military takeover that led to Robert Mugabe's resignation was legal, a key decision since the military had insisted that its moves did not result in a coup.
The court said that the military acted to stop the takeover of Mugabe's powers by those around him, thus ensuring that non-elected individuals do not exercise executive functions
The court's decision comes a day after Zimbabwe’s first new leader in nearly four decades was sworn in, promising major reforms to ease the country’s long-running economic crisis.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa took office Friday in a nation left deeply scarred by 37 years of authoritarian rule by Robert Mugabe, who resigned Tuesday under intense pressure from the military and the ruling party.
In his inaugural address, Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe would attempt to pay its international debts, would loosen import restrictions, and would work to ensure Zimbabweans get easier access to hard currency — a promise that drew massive cheers in a nation where nine currencies are legal tender, but where cash is woefully scarce.
He also said he is committed to compensating farmers whose land was taken under Mugabe's rule. Mugabe critics say the country's controversial land-reform program, which forced experienced white commercial farmers off their property, has caused hunger in the nation once considered the breadbasket of southern Africa.
Mnangagwa will serve out the remainder of Mugabe's term, which is slated to end in mid-2018 after elections the new president promised will be “democratic.”
“I encourage all of us to remain peaceful even as preparations for political contestations for next year’s harmonized free and fair elections gather momentum. The voice of the people is the voice of God,” the new president said Friday.
Mnangagwa also took time in his inaugural address to praise his predecessor. He called Mugabe the "father of our nation," while also acknowledging the former president had made "errors of commission and omission.”
Mugabe remains a hero to millions for his role in freeing Zimbabwe from British colonial and white minority rule. But human rights groups have accused him of rigging elections, allowing his cronies to steal millions from the treasury and being responsible for the torture and killing of thousands of political opponents.
Mnangagwa's inauguration culminates a dramatic turn of events for Zimbabwe. On November 5, Mnangagwa was fired from his position as Zimbabwe's vice president amid a succession struggle with Mugabe's wife, Grace.
He fled into exile for two weeks while the military, which has close ties to Mnangagwa, seized control of state institutions and put pressure on Mugabe to resign.
Mugabe and his wife, Grace, who were granted immunity from prosecution on Thursday, were nowhere to be found among the front row of Southern African presidents at Friday’s ceremony.
Zimbabweans packed a 60,000 seat stadium in the capital to see Mnangagwa take the oath of office. Across Harare, attendees draped themselves in Zimbabwean flags and enthusiastically applauded military and police bands.
Some attendees traveled a long ways for the ceremony, like 34-year-old Solomon Gatsa, who took a five-hour bus ride from the nation’s second city of Bulawayo. He offered the new president some simple advice.
“The first thing, he starts to change the economy,” he told VOA outside the stadium. “After that, the people need to have a job.”
Emillia Majandari, who is 35, said she was less focused on the details of his speech. She said she has only ever known one president, Mugabe, and had to see this event in person.
“I’m very excited, I wanted to see for myself, is it real?” she said. “I’m overexcited. I’m overjoyed. The joy I have — ah!”