Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Picture: REUTERS
Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa. Picture: REUTERS

Harare — For the first time in nearly four decades‚ Zimbabwe will celebrate its birthday without Robert Mugabe on Wednesday.

Until five months ago Mugabe had been the only president that Zimbabweans had known since it achieved independence from the UK. In November Mugabe was forced out of power after 37 years via a military intervention dubbed Operation Restore Legacy.

Now at the helm is President Emmerson Mnangagwa‚ who was appointed state security minister by Mugabe in 1980 at independence.

Mnangagwa is the only member from the inaugural cabinet ushered in by black majority rule who is still in government.

Independence Day in the past was Mugabe’s forte.

Like the late Fidel Castro of Cuba‚ he would take the country down memory lane for hours with a history lesson about the liberation war.

He would also use the occasion to lash out at the West and opposition politicians‚ namely the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T).

Last year Mugabe was steadfast in what had become his yearly mantra.

"Comrades and friends‚" he told the crowd‚ "as we today celebrate our hard-earned independence‚ I urge you to remain vigilant. The enemy is ever ready to pounce on any signs of laxity and weakness on our part. We celebrate as a vigilant nation."

However‚ this time around‚ it is a new dispensation and Zimbabwe is open for business‚ as Mnangagwa calls it.

The new president’s charm offensive has taken him around Southern Africa‚ Davos in Switzerland to meet world business executives and most recently China‚ Zimbabwe’s all-weather friend. But the markets are yet to warm to him.

On Independence Day‚ instead of hard-hitting political rhetoric against enemies‚ Mnangagwa is expected to sing a different tune‚ focused on economic growth and international reintegration.

On his Facebook page‚ Mnangagwa spoke about peace and unity.

"This year’s celebrations carry even greater resonance‚ as we have entered a new period in our history; a period of freedom‚ openness and opportunity. In this new era‚ we must be liberated not only from without but also from within‚ from hate‚ prejudice and discord‚" he said.

But on the streets many remain unconvinced that things are on a positive trajectory. Nurses announced on Monday that they would be going on strike for the second time under Mnangagwa’s watch.

"Government has seen it fit to ignore these combatants [nurses] by not attending to issues which enhance their functionality and motivation [such as] insufficient medical‚ surgical‚ human resources and equipment at health facilities‚" the Nurses Council of Zimbabwe wrote to government.

The strike comes at a time when teachers have also put government on notice.

For factory worker Tabaka Mbongolwane the new dispensation is clueless.

"There is no money in circulation. The president told us he would deal with corruption when he came into power but everything has been underwhelming‚ especially the looters’ list was a high-sounding nothing‚ and those in it gave explanations. From the look of things‚ it just died a list‚" he said.

Last week presidential spokesman George Charamba declared in a radio interview that Mnangagwa would soon deal with the rot‚ even from within his establishment.

"Arrests have to be made on certain people [in the government]‚" he said.

Some expect the president to address the general elections question.

"I don’t understand what’s holding him. He should announce the date and life moves on‚" said Tendai Ndhlovu‚ a primary school teacher.

In previous years under the leadership of the late Morgan Tsvangirai‚ MDC-T would boycott national events‚ largely because of Mugabe’s hostility. But the coalition of parties‚ the MDC Alliance‚ is keen to be part of Independence Day celebrations this year.

"From now on‚ we will attend national events, such as the national Independence Day‚ Heroes Day‚ Defence Forces Day and other such national days‚" said MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa.

Chamisa told a rally last week that‚ despite being interested in national events‚ he was sceptical that Mnangagwa would give him the platform.

"Unfortunately he [Mnangagwa] easily gets angry and the other one who deputises him [retired army general Constantino Chiwenga] is very aggressive‚" he said.