(REUTERS) – Addressing a cheering crowd in Harare on Wednesday night, Mnangagwa said Zimbabwe was entering a new stage of democracy.
He had returned to the country earlier in the day, having fled for his safety when Mugabe sacked him as vice president two weeks ago to smooth a path to the succession for Grace.
“The people have spoken. The voice of the people is the voice of God,” Mnangagwa told thousands of supporters gathered outside the ruling ZANU-PF party’s offices in the capital.
On Thursday, Mnangagwa urged the country’s citizens not to undertake any form of “vengeful retribution”.
Some of his supporters have been calling for unspecified action against the G40 group that backed Mugabe and his wife.
The army appears to have engineered a trouble-free path to power for Mnangagwa, who was for decades a faithful lieutenant of Mugabe and member of his elite.
His own human rights record also stirs hostility in many Zimbabweans.
Mnangagwa was Mugabe’s state security minister in the 1980s when a Korean-trained army brigade cracked down on the minority Ndebele, who supported the PF-ZAPU party of Mugabe’s then-main rival Joshua Nkomo.
Rights groups say up to 20,000 people died during the operation, which Mugabe later said was a moment of madness. Mnangagwa denied responsibility in an interview with Britain’s New Statesman last December.
Restoring Zimbabwe’s fortunes and international standing will be a challenge. Human rights abuses and flawed elections prompted many Western countries to impose sanctions in the early 2000s that further damaged the economy, even with Chinese investment to soften the blow.
Staging clean elections next year will be key to winning fresh funds.
In its first official comments since Mugabe resigned, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change said it was cautiously optimistic a Mnangagwa presidency would not “mimic and replicate the evil, corrupt, decadent and incompetent Mugabe regime”.
Zimbabwe’s bourse, which had been on a rapid rise, lost $6 billion during the military intervention as its main index fell by 40 percent. Analysts say it will fall even further before recovering.
Zimbabwe was once one of Africa’s most promising economies but suffered decades of decline as Mugabe pursued policies that included the violent seizure of white-owned commercial farms and money-printing that led to hyperinflation.
Most of its 13 million people remain poor and face currency shortages and sky-high unemployment, something Mnangagwa promised to address.
An International Monetary Fund official said Zimbabwe’s economic situation remained “very difficult” as sustainable growth is threatened by high government spending, an untenable foreign exchange regime and inadequate reforms. Immediate action is critical, Gene Leon, IMF mission chief for Zimbabwe said.
Britain’s Minister for Africa, meanwhile, said the former colonial power wants Zimbabwe’s new rulers to place the country on a more democratic and prosperous path.
“Zimbabweans suffered for too long as a result of Mugabe’s ruinous rule,” Minister Rory Stewart said on arriving in Harare.