PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe was at the centre of a cocktail of drama and comedy during the just-ended Sadc Extra-Ordinary Summit in Harare on Wednesday as age continues to take its toll on the 91-year-old leader.
BY MOSES MATENGA/OBEY MANAYITI
Mugabe, who is the Sadc and African Union chairperson, stole the limelight as expected.
Known for his penchant for smartness and being particular with his taste, Mugabe shocked many, including his colleague presidents who had lined up for a group photo session when he reached the left pocket of his jacket and took out a plastic hair comb and began to comb his hair in public.
Though he may have been driven by the desire to look presentable in front of camera, many were apparently taken aback by the mere fact that the president actually kept a hair comb in his pocket. It was a rare and hilarious sight for many.
The Mugabe comedy did not end there. He later addressed local and international media in a speech he sometimes found himself speaking in the local Shona language, much to the surprise of the many non-Shona speaking journalists and foreign officials among his audience.
He was also to take media practitioners through a news writing lecture where he said journalists should write what would have happened and not create news out of nothing.
While responding to a question on xenophobia, the veteran leader said journalists could write what they thought was newsworthy to them.
“It’s interesting why you ask about xenophobia first since this meeting was about industrialisation. We know you are journalists and like they say, if a dog bites Mugabe, it’s not news but if Mugabe bites a dog, it’s news,” Mugabe said jokingly.
The drama, during the press briefing continued when Mugabe’s Chief of Protocol officer, Munyaradzi Kajese tried in vain to signal his boss to wind up his address that had gone for close to an hour of digression and irrelevance.
Mugabe took long to respond to questions as he took his time to give what turned out to be history lessons, including irrelevant statistics and comparisons that left many journalists from across Sadc countries shaking their heads and officials perplexed.
Kajese tried in vain to signal his boss to wind up, probably as he was supposed to rush to Bulawayo for the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair official opening.
It took the intervention of the Sadc executive secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax, sitting next to Mugabe to get him to wind up his press briefing characterised by several controversial issues, including his blame of foreigners for the xenophobic attacks in South Africa.
Irrelevant rambling has become common for the president lately, with many saying this was typical of people of his age.
During the Zanu PF congress last year, Mugabe was only stopped from talking by a note written by his wife Grace after he had gone for a long time speaking outside the subject of his speech.
In Chinhoyi in 2013, scores of Zanu PF supporters walked out on him while he was halfway through his two-and-a-half-hour-long speech loaded with historical lectures on the liberation struggle, forcing then party commissar Webster Shamu to plead with the people not to “embarrass” their leader.
During the speech last week, after taking his time giving historical perspectives and lectures to his audience, Kajese stood and walked to the podium trying to signal his boss to stop but he would not.
He tried to get his boss’s attention and when he failed he climbed up to the podium where he made a few steps towards Mugabe but still could not get him to close his briefing. He had to resort to whispering and gesturing to the Sadc secretary who sat next to Mugabe to alert him.
When he finally got the message, Mugabe finished his speech with his “man bites dog” joke.
The build-up to the summit was not without its own drama as tension gripped the city with police presence on all roads leading to the venue of the summit and to a local hotel where heads of state were accommodated.
Police camped for days at a local hotel where the MDC-T had staged anti-Mugabe demonstrations last Tuesday.
The demonstrators declared through messages written on placards that Mugabe must go and accused him of running down the country and turning it into a “nation of vendors”.
On the business side, the summit discussed ways of increasing industrial capacity of countries in southern Africa which are now reduced to mere consumers of imported products from countries such as China.
The summit agreed that mechanisms should be put in place to boost the industrial sector.