President Robert Mugabe’s advanced age, including the state of his physical and mental faculties, continue to hog the limelight.
Interest in the subject has been rekindled by the recent dramatic yet sorry incidents: The President’s stumble-flight-and-fall at the airport on February 4 this year and his shock delivery of an out-dated speech while officially opening the Third Session of the Eighth Parliament on Tuesday last week.
Instead of spelling out Parliament’s legislative agenda for the new session, Mugabe last week read a speech which he had delivered to the same Parliament three weeks back during his State Of the Nation Address. He went through the full text, word by word, without showing any signs of noticing he was reading something he had read before.
Even the missing conclusion which would have declared this session of Parliament officially opened did not seem to jerk him into noticing the blunder. Curiously though, Zanu PF MPs in the House ululated and clapped hands urging him on — a clear sign most of them go to Parliament to sleep, not to follow the business of the House, even if it is Mugabe speaking.
Mugabe’s spokesperson George Charamba quickly confirmed the gaffe, saying the mistake had emanated from Mugabe’s secretarial office. Other officials like Jonathan Moyo, however, sought to downplay the incident, saying it was nothing unusual.
Suggesting that the President may have decided to go through the whole speech knowing full well it was the wrong one would be too farfetched. Mistakes or “mix-ups” are not criminal and Mugabe could have easily done a quick apology and proceeded to deliver the correct speech — if he had the slightest hint of what he was doing.
Excuses that even Barack Obama has done so in the past are difficult to sustain — in fact silly — because in Mugabe’s case, the issue of old age is impossible to isolate from the blunder. At 91, such a slip should be expected, but what cannot be forgiven is the refusal — by him or anybody else — to accept that he is too old to shoulder the responsibility of running a country.
Mugabe is currently the world’s oldest president and the cold fact is that at 91, he has had his time and should be allowed to go home and rest.
I am one of the millions that share the view that Mugabe has built a rare legacy. Zimbabweans cherish this legacy so much they would be saddened to see all of it discarded into the sewer, simply because certain people within Zanu PF are too afraid to lose — not him — but their selfish interests.
Mugabe’s name features strongly among prominent men in history; Napoleon Bonaparte, Tshaka Zulu, Benito Mussolini, Nelson Mandela, Adolf Hitler, Winston Churchill, Kwame Nkrumah, George Washington, Mao Tse Tung, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda, Samora Machel and Kamuzu Banda; men whose fortunes blossomed but had doors of those fortunes necessarily closed when time came.
Some, like the legendary Mandela, left the arena even when millions all over the world wanted them to stay, while others, like Adolf Hitler, took their lives because they feared they would be killed by their own people.
Others too, like Banda, old tearful Kaunda of Zambia and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and others that got swept away in the infamous Arab Spring, had their political lives obliterated by winds of democratic change.
Mugabe appears stuck in the league of a tiny minority of leaders, almost miniscule to the point of invisibility, who by reason of either misinformation or deliberate mischief, fail to acknowledge the principle of political diseconomies of scale.
There is no doubt at all that Mugabe has individually contributed invaluably towards the independence and well-being of Zimbabwe. But then, it remains a fact his contribution towards the collective pain and suffering that the people of this country have endured in the time of his reign, especially in the past two decades, outweighs the President’s erstwhile achievements.
There is Gukurahundi, Murambatsvina, the electoral bloodbath of 2000, 2005 and in particular the widespread violence and deaths that blackened the June 2008 election runoff. The unforgettable economic ruin of 2007-8, comes to mind as well.
While this is a strong case for the President’s immediate retirement, there is even a stronger case for his departure.
The laws of this country do not permit public servants to be employed beyond the age of 65. This universally acceptable position is justified by both intellectual and biological reason that all human beings, even those that claim to be in their positions on an election ticket, are subject to deteriorating mental and physical capacity with age.
It is very difficult to convince anyone, Your Excellency, that at such an advanced age, your capacity for good judgement can still satisfy the demands of millions of young Zimbabweans.
Yet, it is an undeniable fact that the person of Mugabe has been so present in the Zimbabwean political landscape that it has engendered a strong belief, especially in Zanu PF, that should he step down, the party, the State, and the nation will crumble — the “no Zimbabwe without Mugabe” mentality.
In the minds of the old men and women at Shake-Shake building, the name Mugabe and Zanu PF are one. That is the reason why each year the President says he would have long called it a day but he stays on because he is being “asked” to soldier on, age regardless.
For many reasons, including infirmity and mental capacity, most Zimbabweans are now convinced the President is now over the hill and is no longer capable of comprehending issues affecting the country.