HARARE – A day after President Robert Mugabe fell off a podium at Harare International Airport, in a worrisome incident that elicited loud gasps of concern among gathered senior government officials, service chiefs and Zanu PF supporters, his critics say it is now time for the nonagenarian to either resign or retire due to advanced age.

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Leading opposition figures said yesterday that after 35 tumultuous years at the helm in Zimbabwe, and at the ripe old age of 91, it was time for Mugabe to clear the way for a new leader to chart a new era for the struggling, but resource-rich country.

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Pic: The Telegraph

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Photographs and video footage of Mugabe’s nasty fall went viral on social media and also made headline news in international media yesterday, amid bizarre claims by lickspittle State media that the president had not fallen, but had merely tripped and “remarkably managed to break the fall on his own”.

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This desperate spin was despite the wide availability of self-evident photographic and video evidence of the mortifying fall.

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Empathetic opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said, “It’s very unfortunate even though it is understandable at his age. I hope he gets the medical attention he deserves.”

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Sibongile Mgijima, deputy national spokesperson for Welshman Ncube’s MDC, said Mugabe must resign.

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“There is everything wrong with a 91-year-old man who wants to pretend that his body is not succumbing to the natural process of aging.

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“Most 91-year-olds use canes to assist them to walk. If president Mugabe had done the same, perhaps he could have prevented this nasty fall.

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“It goes to show that he now lacks co-ordination with his brains. He can no longer continue to deceive Zimbabweans that he is both mentally and physically fit. It is time to leave office, stay home and tell stories to his grandchildren,” Mgijima said.

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MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu weighed in saying Mugabe was “an old man” who now needed to seriously contemplate stepping down.

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“He is soon turning 91 and at that advanced age, a person’s health and general physical fitness become severely strained.

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“As the MDC, we have repeatedly stated on account of his increasingly failing health, as well as advanced age, that Mugabe is no longer fit for purpose.

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“Here is a geriatric who gives himself an extremely punishing schedule as a husband to a relatively young wife, a father to children young enough to be his grandchildren, a president of a country whose economy is virtually comatose, the chair of both Sadc and the African Union, as well as being the chancellor of more than 12 State universities!

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“His plate is rather too full for an ailing nonagenarian,” Gutu told the Daily News, adding that it was regrettable that more often than not, Mugabe was “hopping from one aeroplane onto another”.

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“He loves travelling and the Far East is his destination of choice.

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The man is just too old, frail and sickly. The best thing that he can do for himself, his family and his country is to immediately resign as the head of state and retire to farming at Gushungo Estates.

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“He could also utilise his time in retirement to pen his memoirs.

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Anything short of that will simply mean enhanced socio-economic suffering for the majority of the people of Zimbabwe who are now living in penury and destitution,’’ Gutu said.

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Evans Sagomba, a spokesperson for Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn, said given the events at the airport, it was high time Mugabe called it quits.

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“It’s a big sign. It’s time for the old man to rest. Everyone was there and it’s a clear sign that they should let the old man rest.

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What more do you want? Everybody was there and it happened right in front of them, even the generals.

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“We are not gloating over this. We can’t laugh at it because he is an old man. But it happened in a public place. They should have a meeting to say the old man must rest. It’s a clear message,” Sagomba said.

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Dewa Mavhinga, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, said Mugabe’s fall was a sad development.

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“His party and family should seriously talk about Mugabe’s overdue retirement and not scapegoat the fall as resulting from a poorly laid out carpet,” he said, referring to the spin by lickspittle State media about the alleged cause of the fall.

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“The president’s upcoming 91st birthday this month is a good opportunity to seriously reflect on calling it a day,” Mavhinga added.

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Analyst Maxwell Saungweme said there were more important things Zimbabweans should focus on, rather than the tripping of “a 91-year-old man”.

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“It should not be news as this is just a re-affirmation that he is old and like anyone at his age, deserves a rest,” Saungweme said.

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Although Mugabe and his aides have consistently claimed that he is allegedly “as fit as a fiddle”, he has in recent years shuttled frequently between Zimbabwe and the Far East for medical attention.

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“I am here for as long as I am still sane, with good memory and will power,” Mugabe said in his closing remarks at the disputed damp squib Zanu PF “elective” congress that was held in Harare in December last year.

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But even ordinary Zimbabweans, while commiserating with Mugabe over his fall, said yesterday that it was high time he stepped down as Zimbabwean leader.

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“His age doesn’t allow for all this, Sadc chairman, AU chairman, domestic affairs. Hezvo akoromoka awa,” (Now he has fallen) said Mike Moyo, a Harare cellphone recharge card vendor.

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The increasingly frail Mugabe, fell after he had just finished addressing his supporters after returning from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he took over the rotating ceremonial chairmanship of the African Union.

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Although he appeared unhurt after the nasty fall, the incident — which occurred in full view of gathered bigwigs, Zanu PF rank and file members and journalists — triggered visible panic among senior government officials and security chiefs, who all scrambled to help him get on his feet and ensure that he was alright.

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Aggressive security personnel immediately moved unsuccessfully to try and force all the gathered photojournalists, including a crew from the Daily News, to delete pictures of the fall.

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Turning 91 in three weeks’ time, Mugabe is officially Africa’s oldest leader and the continent’s third-longest serving leader.

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He is also the only leader Zimbabweans have known since the country’s independence from Britain in 1980, in a region where most of the neighbouring countries have had up to six different leaders during the same time.

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Mugabe has come under increasing political pressure at home — both from within and outside his ruling party — and is subject to travel bans in the European Union and in the USA because of allegations of gross human rights violations against him and his administration.

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When he initially took power at independence, Mugabe was widely feted both at home and abroad, and was seen as promoting reconciliation.

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But the much talked about human rights abuses and chaotic land reforms that forced out white commercial farmers from their farms from around 2000 onwards drew the ire of the West and lost him much political capital at home.

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Since then, the Zanu PF leader has also increasingly been accused of vote-rigging as his party has clung on to power, with a group of stalwarts in his party now also taking him head-on.

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Mugabe’s fall yesterday mirrored the dramatic collapse of police commissioner-general Augustine Chihuri mid last year, moments after Mugabe had addressed a pass-out parade of 651 police graduates at Morris Training Depot in Harare.

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Chihuri’s collapse, which he bizarrely blamed on tight-fitting shoes, came at a time when the country was grappling with health scares for both Mugabe and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

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Meanwhile, lickspittle State media — which sought to downplay the fall despite embarrassingly going on to cite a number of recorded global cases in which other leaders had suffered the same indignity — reported

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Mugabe’s aides yesterday saying that the nonagenarian was well.

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They also published pictures of Mugabe arriving at his Harare offices to chair Cabinet yesterday, in a move that analysts said betrayed the uneasiness in official circles around the fall. -Daily News