HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe's ruling party assured Robert Mugabe that he wouldn't be prosecuted if he resigned, a party official said Thursday, as the fate of the 93-year-old became clearer and the country prepared to move on.
"Prosecuting him was never part of the plan," ZANU-PF chief whip Lovemore Matuke told The Associated Press. "He is safe, his family is safe and his status as a hero of his country is assured. All we were saying is resign or face impeachment."
As Zimbabwe prepared to witness the swearing-in of new president Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday morning, its citizens circulated on social media a new photo showing what appeared to be Mugabe at the end of his 37-year rule.
Mugabe and his wife are shown sitting on a sofa with advisers standing behind them. A dejected-looking Grace Mugabe, who just days ago had been poised to replace Mnangagwa after his firing as vice president and even succeed her husband, looks off camera. A listing Robert Mugabe's eyes are closed. The photo could not immediately be verified.
Mugabe, who resigned on Tuesday as lawmakers began impeaching him, has not spoken publicly since his stunning speech on Sunday defying calls from the military, ruling party and the people to step down.
But it appears he and his wife will remain in the capital, Harare.
According to protocol, Mugabe could even be present at the 75-year-old Mnangagwa's swearing-in on 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.
Mnangagwa's speech upon his return 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, unlikely to reassure the opposition.
The opposition party MDC-T, which supported Mugabe's removal, said it had not been invited to the inauguration. Spokesman Obert Guru said the party was closely watching Mnangagwa's next moves, "particularly regarding the dismantling of all the oppressive pillars of repression."
In a new statement Thursday, Mnangagwa urged Zimbabweans against "vengeful retribution."
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, a former justice and defense minister with close ties to the military who served for decades as Mugabe's enforcer, remains on a U.S. sanctions list over allegations of violently cracking down on opponents.
He fled Zimbabwe after being fired on Nov. 6 and 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.
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 resignation was met with wild celebrations by people thrilled to be rid of a leader whose early promise after taking power at the end of white minority rule in 1980 was overshadowed 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.