Southern African country Zimbabwe on Wednesday marked its first independence day anniversary without Robert Mugabe in power.
The nw Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa however vowed to hold “credible” elections and turn around the southern African country’s moribund economy.
Mugabe ruled Zimbabwe from independence in 1980 until last November when he was forced to resign under pressure from his party, the military and the street.
Presiding over Wednesday’s celebrations at the national sports stadium in Harare, Mnangagwa said:
“My government has put in place measures for the holding of transparent, free, fair and credible elections.”
Admitting that the country’s economic crisis was causing “great hardship”, he added:
“My administration’s focus is on the pursuit of investment-led economic recovery, job creation (and) poverty reduction.”
The celebrations came as the government fired thousands of nurses who kicked off a strike demanding higher pay on Monday amid growing labour unrest.
Mnangagwa, Mugabe’s former deputy and a veteran loyalist in the ruling ZANU-PF, is widely expected to retain power along with the party in the elections expected in July or August.
The opposition Movement for Democratic Change party attended the independence day celebrations, ending a boycott they had observed over Mugabe’s authoritarian rule.
The ousted leader often used the occasion of independence day to harangue the West and reaffirm his total control over the former British colony.
The army briefly took power in November before Mugabe, now 94, resigned when once-loyal ZANU-PF lawmakers started impeachment proceedings against him.
His reign left Zimbabwe in dire economic decline, triggering mass emigration and a widespread collapse of public services.
The new president also has repeatedly declared the once-prosperous Zimbabwe “open for business” and this week dispatched a ministerial team to the U.S. to lure investors after changing an indigenization law that forced foreign investors to cede majority shareholding to locals.
“This Independence Day marks a new chapter for Zimbabwe,” said Alexander Rusero, a political analyst based in Harare. “Mnangagwa has already set the tone by trying to reach out. Unlike Mugabe, who used the day to create more enemies, Mnangagwa is likely to use the day to make more friends.”