Harare, Zimbabwe - As Zimbabwe on Thursday prepared to swear in a new leader, Emmerson Mnangagwa, after 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 Mugabe, who resigned on Tuesday as lawmakers began 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.
Mugabe appeared to remain in the capital, Harare, with former first lady Grace, reportedly after securing guarantees of protection that included immunity from prosecution.
A new photo circulating on social media, said to be taken this week, showed Mugabe and his wife sitting on a sofa with advisers standing behind them. A dejected-looking Grace Mugabe, who had been likely to replace Mnangagwa after his firing as vice president earlier this month, looks off camera while Robert Mugabe's eyes are closed. The photo could not immediately be verified.
Mnangagwa is set to be sworn in Friday morning at a 60 000-seat stadium after making a triumphant return to the country. He fled shortly after his firing, claiming threats to his life.
His speech to a cheering crowd 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 Mugabe's removal, said it was closely watching 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, says Zimbabweans should let Mnangagwa know that the country should be for everyone and not just the ruling party.
Mnangagwa is a former justice and defense minister with close ties to the military who served for decades as 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 Mugabe moved against a political rival in the 1980s, and he remains on a U.S. sanctions list over allegations of violently cracking down on opponents.
Mnangagwa, who fled Zimbabwe after being fired on Nov. 6, was in hiding during the week-long political drama that led to 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 cooperation of the continent of Africa," he said. "We need the cooperation of our friends outside the continent."
Mnangagwa will serve Mugabe's remaining term until elections at some point next year. Opposition lawmakers who have alleged vote-rigging in the past say balloting must be free and fair, a call the United States and others have echoed.
Mugabe's firing of his longtime 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.
Mugabe's 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.
On Thursday, an editorial in the privately run NewsDay newspaper said Mnangagwa has "an unenviable task" and that he should set up a coalition government that represents all Zimbabweans.
"Arguments by some sections of society are that indeed Mnangagwa was part of the failed Zanu PF regime until two weeks ago, and may not have been the right person for the job, given the political and economic errors of the past," the editorial said. "The new president will come under significant pressure to perform miracles to prove his critics wrong."