From breaking fall to wrong speech: Mugabe’s year of drama

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has been a political gladiator in the land between the Zambezi and Limpopo rivers for over half a century. He has straddled the length and breadth of this nation and beyond its borders like a colossus; but the proverbial bell now seems to be tolling.\r\nBY RICHARD CHIDZA\r\nAt 91, Mugabe continues to attend to a punishing national and international schedule in a year he has presided over the affairs of the regional block, Sadc, as well as the AU as chairperson of both bodies.\r\n\r\nThis appears to have taken its toll on the President’s ageing body, evidenced by a litany of bleeps and blunders that opposition parties argue have brought shame, not only to his office, but to the nation at large. Some of them are now calling for his impeachment or resignation. Mugabe, as usual, has ignored these calls and trudges on despite obvious signs of fatigue.\r\n\r\nThe past 10 months have been especially telling for Mugabe; from revealing that his wife has literally “captured me at home”, declaring his mortal enemy (Morgan Tsvangirai) as the legitimate winner of the 2008 poll, sticking his foot into a piece of carpet and flying down on all fours, the Nigerian debacle and now the “wrong speech”. It is one grim chapter of his life that he would want to forget very quickly.\r\n\r\nHe is visibly frail, but the irony is his handlers claim he is as fit as a fiddle, only suffers from an eye cataract and will be fit to contest the 2018 elections at the ripe age of 94!\r\n\r\nAs age catches up with Zanu PF’s only leader in the past four decades, and Zimbabwe’s sole Head-of-State since majority rule from colonial Rhodesia 35 years ago, Mugabe’s embarrassing moments have increased both in quantity and intensity.\r\n\r\nMugabe is a supremely intelligent man and at his prime, he awed many an audience with his grasp of issues and alertness, but of late he has become sluggish both in speech and mannerisms. A holder of no less than seven BA degrees, under normal circumstances Mugabe would have noticed if anything was amiss with his prepared speech, or other things. Cabinet colleagues report that he has taken to sleeping in meetings, but is quick to pick up things as if to spite those who say he dozes off easily.\r\n\r\nFormer war veterans leader Jabulani Sibanda two weeks ago opined: “Mugabe is a captured human being, held hostage by an internal power hungry cabal bent on abusing an old man.”\r\nIn December last year, Mugabe seemed to have gone a long way in resolving the mystery of the 2008 elections that the opposition claims was stolen. While addressing service chiefs and the new leadership of the war veterans association at the Zanu PF headquarters, Mugabe made a telling “Freudian slip” of the tongue when he said Tsvangirai had garnered 73% of the vote.\r\n\r\nBefore Mugabe could mention his own percentage, dozens of loyalists in the room interjected shouting “47%, 47%, 47%”. Mugabe promptly took the cue and said Tsvangirai had garnered 47%, while he got 43% of the vote.\r\n\r\nMugabe then told party loyalists at the party’s congress that his wife First Lady Grace “orders me around at home” and this assertion seems to have been buttressed months later. Grace also told supporters in Kadoma that Mugabe’s two deputies, Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko, “take instructions from me” in revelations analysts said indicated she was increasingly taking charge of government and party affairs following her elevation to head the Women’s League mid last year.\r\nMugabe-pasi-ne-Zanu-PF-with-text\r\n\r\nAs he closed his speech at the congress and after receiving endorsements from all organs to be the Zanu PF presidential election candidate in 2018, Mugabe shocked his audience when he chanted, “pasi neZanu PF!” (to hell with Zanu PF). In the heat of the moment, most people in the huge marquee chanted back “Pasi!” [die!] However, Grace tagged at Mugabe and told the nonagenarian of his mistake. Surprised, Mugabe corrected himself immediately.\r\n\r\nIn early February this year, Mugabe stuck his foot into a badly-laid carpet and went down in a heap after addressing party supporters at the Harare International Airport in an embarrassing incident that made global news, with many attributing the tumble to advanced age and not a mislaid carpet.\r\n\r\nThen, Information minister Jonathan Moyo claimed “the President broke the fall; he did not fall”. But Mugabe later admitted he had indeed fallen, “just like any normal human being”. He also said he, in fact, fell quite often at home.\r\n\r\nIt was an indictment on Moyo who tries hard to spin every negative incident involving Mugabe, amid reports Grace — who was away in the Far East at the time — returned frothing with anger and cracked the whip, relieving a number of Mugabe’s aides of their duties.\r\n\r\nAs AU chairperson, Mugabe criss- crossed the continent attending every meeting. Towards the end of May, he attended the inauguration of Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, but the trip turned into an unforgettable experience. A Sahara Television journalist accosted Mugabe, asking him about his human rights record and “when are you going to retire?”.\r\n\r\nSo humiliated was Mugabe that insiders said he demanded to fly out of Lagos on the same night. He had to be begged to stay on as his commandeered jet had no clearance and because it would have been a breach of protocol and security.\r\nThe biggest embarrassment came last week when Mugabe, after accepting an invitation from the legislature to preside over its official opening. He arrived amid the usual pomp and fanfare associated with the accession. He turned it into a mini-show of British and colonial pageantry, from the vintage gleaming century-old black Rolls Royce, to police on horseback and Constitutional Court judges bedecked in toupees and other colourful paraphernalia.\r\n\r\nHowever, as all sat to hear the “King speaketh”, everything turned upside down. Mugabe read the same speech he had presented to the national assembly as his State of the Nation Address (Sona) at the end of August, save for the 10-point plan, and all hell broke loose.\r\n\r\nWhile he had spoken for 27 minutes during his Sona presentation, the 91-year-old then spoke for 25 minutes in the repeat read, his lieutenants in the gallery egging him on. Even after the debacle, William Mutomba, Buhera North lawmaker, moved a motion to debate the President’s speech.\r\n\r\nA few hours later, however, Mugabe ordered the withdrawal of the “wrong speech” and reconvening of Parliament to have the “right speech” re-tabled.\r\n\r\nBut he stayed away from the re-do, maybe in shame, or just too tired to go through the motion once again.\r\n\r\nPeople’s Democratic Party spokes- person Jacob Mafume said, in the aftermath of the “wrong speech”, we must all hold our heads in collective shame for what we have done to this old man”.\r\n\r\nPolitical analyst Ibbo Mandaza turned the spotlight on Mugabe’s handlers.\r\n\r\n“I was a civil servant and that kind of thing would not happen. How do they explain the two-minute difference between the Sona and the opening of Parliament speech? The 10-point plan from the Sona was missing [from the wrong speech] and also, the opening parts of the two speeches are different.\r\n\r\n“The wrong speech was clearly designed for the State of the Nation Address because the first part is different. Even Mugabe in his old age would have realised he was reading the wrong text and would never have continued,” said Mandaza.\r\n\r\n“What is surprising is that his handlers continue to have him embarrassed like that and these blunders are going to continue to intensify. It is not befitting of a Head of State and [it is] an indictment on us as a nation. They set him up. It’s as clear as that, no doubt”.\r\n\r\nIt has been an eventful 10 months full of memes created out of Mugabe’s blunders. Analysts argue that the veteran leader would want to wake up and realise it had all been a bad dream but no; “reality is Mugabe is old, tired and would want to rest, if only they can allow him”.