A Zimbabwe ruling party official says prosecuting former president Robert Mugabe was never part of the plan in his removal.

Ruling party chief whip Lovemore Matuke told The Associated Press that party officials assured Mugabe he would not be prosecuted.

Matuke says that Mugabe "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.'"

Incoming leader Emmerson Mnangagwa, whose firing by Mugabe earlier this month led the military to step in, will be sworn in Friday.

Mugabe, who resigned on Tuesday as lawmakers began impeaching him, has not spoken publicly since his stunning speech on Sunday night defying calls from the military, ruling party and the people to step down.

Mugabe, 93, appeared to remain in the capital, Harare, with his wife Grace Mugabe, but it was not clear under what terms.

Mugabe wants to die in his home country and has no plans to go into exile, sources said.

A new photo circulating on social media, and said to have been taken this week, showed Mugabe and his wife sitting on a sofa with advisers standing behind them. A dejected-looking Grace Mugabe, who had been likely to replace Mnangagwa after his firing as vice-president earlier this month, looks off camera while Robert Mugabe's eyes are closed.

The photo could not immediately be verified.

Mnangagwa was set to be sworn in 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.


Zimbabwe's former vice-president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is due to be sworn in as president on Friday, addresses supporters in Harare on Wednesday. Some have questioned his suitability for the role given he acted for years as a Mugabe 'enforcer.' (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

His speech to a cheering crowd 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, declaring death to "enemies," that are unlikely to reassure the opposition.

Opposition expects change

Zimbabwe's opposition MDC-T party says it has not been invited to Friday's inauguration of the country's new leader. Spokesperson Obert Guru said party leader and former prime minister Morgan Tsvangirari also has not been invited.

"It is difficult for us to attend when we have not been invited, so we are still deliberating," said Guru.

He 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 to "remain patient and peaceful and desist from any form of 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 is a former justice and defence minister with close ties to the military who served for decades as Mugabe's enforcer, a role that earned him the nickname Crocodile.

U.S. sanctions

Many opposition supporters believe he was instrumental in the army killings of thousands of people when Mugabe moved against a political rival in the 1980s, and he remains on a U.S. sanctions list over allegations of violently cracking down on opponents.

The sanctions relate to acts "to undermine Zimbabwe's democratic processes or institutions" and "acts of violence and other human rights abuses against political opponents," the U.S. says.

Zimbabwe Grace Mugabe Assets

Children and cattle belonging to a group of villagers who for years resisted efforts by the wife of former President Robert Mugabe to force them off a farm are seen back at that farm in Mazoe, near Harare, Thursday. The farmers say they are able to move around more freely now. (Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Associated Press)

Mnangagwa, who fled Zimbabwe after being fired on Nov. 6, 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 that has exacted a heavy toll on the southern African nation of 16 million.​

The 75-year-old said he had received messages of support from other countries. "We need the co-operation of the continent of Africa. We need the co-operation of our friends outside the continent."

Elections in 2018

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 firing of his longtime deputy as the first lady positioned herself to succeed her husband led the military to step in, putting under house arrest the man who took power after the end of white minority rule in 1980.


Zimbabweans celebrate in the morning sun after Mugabe resigned in Harare on Tuesday. (Mike Hutchings/Reuters)

Mugabe's resignation has been met with wild celebrations by people thrilled to be rid of a leader whose early promise was overtaken by economic collapse, government dysfunction and human rights violations.

'The new president will come under significant pressure to perform miracles to prove his critics wrong.' - Editorial in Zimbabwe's NewsDay newspaper

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.

"Arguments by some sections of society are that indeed Mnangagwa was part of the failed ZANU-PF regime until two weeks ago, and may not have been the right person for the job, given the political and economic errors of the past," the editorial said. "The new president will come under significant pressure to perform miracles to prove his critics wrong."

With files from Reuters