Emmerson Mnangagwa on Friday urged war veterans to play a central role in campaigning for the ruling ZANU-PF party ahead of elections due in July or August.
The elections will be the first in Zimbabwe without Robert Mugabe who was forced from office last year, ending his authoritarian rule over the country since independence from Britain decades ago.
The veterans of the 1970s liberation struggle have been a vital cog in the ZANU-PF party, helping Mugabe to hold onto power and often being accused of violence during elections and over land seizures.
Mnangagwa — himself a war veteran — called for them “to go out full throttle in our huge numbers and campaign for a thunderous victory.”
“We must win the hearts and minds of our people,” he said, addressing about 5,000 veterans in the capital Harare.
Mnangagwa also pledged to improve the welfare of veterans by increasing their monthly allowances from the current $206.
Emmerson Mnangagwa urged people to defend the country and work hard for the benefit of the people now and in the future.
Zimbabwe’s past elections have been marred by violence and fraud.
But Mnangagwa, 75, has vowed to hold a free and fair vote that would boost his efforts to re-engage with international donors and bring in much-needed foreign investment.
Mnangagwa is a long-time ZANU-PF veteran who was one of Mugabe’s closest allies before they fell out last year.
He reiterated that he is a listening President, adding that there need to respect the rule of law as a nation if the economy is to be rebuilt.
“I am a servant of the people and am a listening President. The task at hand is to rebuild the economy which must involve all Zimbabweans, regardless of gender. This will be done through the rule of law and constitutionalism.
At the polls, he will face opposition leader Nelson Chamisa, 40, of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), who took over his party’s leadership after the death of Morgan Tsvangirai.