Emmerson Mnangagwa, center, and his wife Auxillia, right, arrive at the presidential inauguration ceremony in Harare, Zimbabwe, Nov. 24, 2017.
Emmerson Mnangagwa, center, and his wife Auxillia, right, arrive at the presidential inauguration ceremony in Harare, Zimbabwe, Nov. 24, 2017.

HARARE, ZIMBABWE - In an open space that Zimbabwe’s ruling party has called Robert Mugabe Square, delegates gathered Friday to seal the fate of a man they had revered for decades but removed from power in dramatic scenes last month.

Emmerson Mnangagwa has been inaugurated as the new president and party leader, replacing Mugabe, who had led the party since 1975 and the country since independence from white minority rule in 1980.

Friday’s ZANU-PF party meeting is the final step in Mugabe’s fall from grace after the military put him under house arrest, hundreds of thousands rallied in the streets and lawmakers began impeachment proceedings. Under the growing pressure, the 93-year-old who had vowed to rule for life finally resigned.

The decision to remove Mugabe as party leader was made by the Central Committee, and “it is a foregone conclusion delegates will ratify,” party spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo said.

FILE - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his wi
FILE - Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and his wife, Grace, arrive at an election rally in Chivu, south of the capital Harare, March 28, 2005.

?Mugabe missing

Images of Mugabe’s face, usually plastered on delegates’ dress and other paraphernalia, were conspicuously missing, as was Mugabe himself. He flew to Malaysia and Singapore earlier this week to visit family and seek medical treatment in his first overseas trip since last month’s events.

Mnangagwa at his inauguration described Mugabe as a “father, comrade-in-arms and my leader,” even though his firing by Mugabe as vice president early last month set the events in motion amid concerns that unpopular first lady Grace Mugabe might succeed him.

Mugabe’s time was up the moment he surrendered power to his wife, some party delegates said.

The ruling party also was expected to endorse the 75-year-old Mnangagwa as party leader and its presidential candidate for next year’s elections, Moyo said.

Much for Mnangagwa to do

Now Mnangagwa must find a way out of his longtime mentor’s shadow, revive the severely weakened economy and win over voters ahead of elections.

On Thursday, he called for longtime sanctions to be lifted to ease foreign investment and promised measures to make the once-prosperous southern African nation “a place where capital feels safe.”

The opposition, shut out of Mnangagwa’s Cabinet in favor of military and ruling party members, has joined the United States and others in the international community in urging Zimbabwe’s new government to make sure next year’s elections are democratic. Mnangagwa, sanctioned by the U.S. years ago for his activities as a top Mugabe aide, has said the government will do all in its power to make sure the elections are “credible, free and fair.”