“This is the beginning of a new unfolding democracy in our country,” Emmerson Mnangagwa told his supporters at his first public address since returning to Zimbabwe. But is it?

For five decades, Mr Mnangagwa was former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s protégé, comrade, and right-hand man.

He was at his side during the fight against white minority rule, and during the post-liberation government.

He is also said to have been behind some of the most notorious acts of repression which helped keep Mr Mugabe in power.

There are, however, some key differences between the man likely to become Zimbabwe’s new president, and his former mentor.

Mr Mnangagwa may be in his 70s but that is still around two decades younger than the man he is replacing.

There is some dispute over whether he is 71 or 75. Mr Mnangagwa is said to have avoided being hanged when arrested during the fight for independence by lying about his age.

But while Mr Mugabe was notoriously stubborn, Mr Mnangagwa is said to be more flexible in his approach, if only for the purposes of achieving his goals.

With elections planned for next year, many in the ruling Zanu-PF party, whose ranks are filled with veterans of the struggle for independence, will be hoping he can reach out to Zimbabwe’s youth.

However, like Mr Mugabe, he has a reputation for ruthlessness. He was in charge of state security during the Matabeleland massacres of the 1980s, in which some 20,000 people were killed on suspicion of being part of a rebellion.

And human rights groups accuse him of being behind a violent crackdown on opposition supporters after the disputed 2008 election.

So one key question facing Zimbabwe, is whether he will allow the next election to be free and fair.

As well as being more flexible, Mr Mnangagwa is arguably more pragmatic than Mr Mugabe.

He is said to have recently held secret talks with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, although the BBC has not been able to independently verify this.

While it is still far from certain that he would be open to a widely mooted government of national unity, it certainly looks more likely than it did a week ago.

For Mr Mnangagwa, a key concern – by most accounts – is showing the international community that his country is stable, in order to secure investment in the economy.

The BBC’s Stanley Kwenda in Harare says that Mr Mnangagwa has a good reputation in the business sector, and tried to protect productive farms operated by white farmers during the controversial land reform programme.

Mr Mnangagwa served as acting finance minster between 1995-1996, during a period of relative economic stability.

He said in an interview last year that “capital goes where it feels comfortable and warm, and if it’s cold it runs to a country which gives it better weather”.

That seems to have been a reference to the dire state of Zimbabwe’s economy, and what it might take to turn it around following years of sanctions imposed after the seizure of white-owned farms.

And in his speech after his return from exile, he said his focus would be on “jobs, jobs, jobs”.