Zimbabwe on Wednesday marked its first independence day without Robert Mugabe in power, with new leader Emmerson Mnangagwa vowing to hold “credible” elections and turn around the southern African country’s declining 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.