DOES anyone still remember a lunatic called Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf?
By Walter Marwizi
Al-Sahhaf was the minister of Information for Iraq when America and her allies invaded the country to topple Saddam Hussein in 2003.
Despite the massive show of firepower by the US forces, Al-Sahhaf, who earned the name Comical Ali for his antics, tried to mislead the world into believing that Saddam was unconquerable.
With a straight face, he lied that US forces were committing suicide “by the hundreds” at the gates of Bagdad and that Iraq forces would prevail against the infidels.
As mortar shells exploded a few hundred metres away from the venue of his press briefing, Al-Sahhaf’s lunacy was laid bare.
After President Robert Mugabe dramatically fell at the Harare International Airport last week, I got a sense that Zimbabwe has its fair share of “Comical alis”, hell bent on spreading lies about President Mugabe’s state of health.
These propagandists want Zimbabweans to believe that at 91, Mugabe is still that sprightly and much adored man he was in 1980, still possessing abundant energy that is needed for one to lead this country.
Sadly for these officials who want the President to remain in power, giving them enough time to feather their nests, Mugabe is human and is quite old by any standard — whether African or European, and it’s inevitable that his health is now failing.
He now needs help when walking and more so when navigating stairs and carpeted areas.
Without such assistance, it was quite saddening last week to see our veteran leader, who had been euphoric about his election as African Union chairperson, tumbling down after missing the stairs of a podium at the airport.
Strangely, none of his guards who should be trained in providing close security for the President shielded him. The worst could have happened if he had hit the ground headlong with his glasses on, his hapless guards watching.
Maybe if his better half, First Lady Grace Mugabe was around, it could have been different.
The poor guards then thought they could cover up the incident by ordering journalists, who are fully accredited with the Media and Information Commission, to delete their images.
The journalists complied but unfortunately for these enemies of a free press, in the age of the digital revolution, these efforts always end in vain.
Soon videos of the incident were awash on WhatsApp, Facebook and other platforms and Mugabe was a subject of hilarious memes on the internet.
Both digital natives and immigrants saw the unflattering videos of the President and I believe only those with net phobia missed them.
Before chuckles had died down, we heard the two Vice-Presidents were showering praises on him. Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko described Mugabe as a “mountain of mountains, “heads above heads” and a “cistern of wisdom”, among other fawning terms.
The reality, however, is the opposite. Mugabe is now very old and comes across as someone too terrified to leave office, fearing possible retribution.
If Mugabe was the “cistern of wisdom” as alleged, he would have realised by now that it’s time he packed his bags from the State House and head for retirement either at Zvimba or in Mazowe Valley where his wife is building an empire.
Tending to cattle and drinking readily available fresh milk at Gushungo dairy farm could be a nice pastime for a 91-year-old who has achieved all he wanted in his life.
Mugabe, who has been plagued by reports of ill-health, in February last year revealed that eye cataracts and a knee problem were troubling him.
He did not talk about the widely rumoured prostate-related problem but frequent trips to Singapore pointed to something more serious.
Pretending that he is a “young old man” will not help Mugabe, as we witnessed at the airport on Wednesday.
And thanks to advances in technology, Zimbabweans and the rest of the world got to see how the mighty have fallen, never mind how Information minister Jonathan Moyo and others tried to downplay the incident.
Mugabe is not that infallible leader that is often portrayed by Zimbabwe’s own “Comical Alis”.
Due to age and ill health, his body is now severely weakened and he may do well with a walking stick by his side like the late former Malawian President Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda. More importantly, Mugabe would do himself and Zimbabweans a great favour by retiring.
You can’t cling on to the leadership of a party facing deep divisions and remain president of a country facing an economic crisis. Dealing with these mattes takes a toll on one’s health.
That is Mugabe’s undoing. Instead of taking a rest, the old president wants to be in the driving seat of a ramshackle constantly requiring push-starts.
Under the circumstances, the logical thing for him is to scale-down on his demanding duties associated with being the head of state and government, commander in chief of the armed forces, chancellor of all state universities, chairman of Sadc and now the African Union.
Mugabe should let his two Vice-Presidents take a more prominent role in running the affairs of the country.