PRESIDENT-elect Robert Mugabe’s election victory may have been tainted by controversial incidents, particularly claims of rigging, but reality is slowly dawning in the minds of both the local, regional, continental and international community that the 89-year-old veteran politician, who has been at the helm of Zimbabwe since Independence in 1980, will be inaugurated for a further five-year term.
The MDC-T has mounted court challenges in a bid to reverse the outcome, while Botswana and mainly Western countries are casting aspersions on the credibility of the polls.
However, given that the courts are packed with judges seen as largely partisan, the outcome is expected to be a foregone conclusion.
Political analyst Brian Raftopoulos says Mugabe and Zanu PF will stop at nothing to reclaim power, particularly after the African Union (AU) and Sadc have already declared the polls free, honest and peaceful.
Former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo, who headed the AU observer mission, described them as “free, honest and credible”.
Raftopoulos believes Sadc was desperate to draw a line under the longstanding Zimbabwe problem.
“In its pursuit of stability in the region and protection of national sovereignty, it (Sadc) has opted for a minimally acceptable election in which the absence of large-scale violence appears to have been the most important litmus test for a credible ballot,” he said.
So when Mugabe will be sworn in is merely an academic issue; the real question is whether he will actually serve his five-year term. Mugabe’s age and frailty is weighing against him and this leads many to speculate that he might not be able to complete his term either due to retirement, incapacitation or death.
Given his age and ill-health, will Mugabe retreat to the shadows as a ceremonial president, allowing somebody else to effectively run government? Or will he retire at Zanu PF’s congress next year and formally hand over powerto an anointed successor?
At 89, Mugabe is no longer the buccaneering gladiator he was at Independence and he even admitted as much during his campaign rally in Bulawayo. He will be 94 by the time elections are due in 2018, and running government is very demanding and will exact a heavy toll on his health.
For long Mugabe’s health has been shrouded in secrecy and speculation on his health state has been fuelled by his constant trips to the Far East, mainly Singapore. His most recent trip was to Singapore in June, reportedly for a routine eye check-up, just a month before elections.
During the recent campaign rallies for the general elections, Mugabe dispensed with his tradition of walking around venues greeting his supporters and had to be helped into the back of an open Ford truck in which he drove around to greet followers.
During Independence celebrations in April at the National Sports Stadium in Harare, he struggled to walk as he hobbled while inspecting the guard of honour.
Mugabe had earlier stumbled and almost fallen while lighting the Independence flame when he missed a step after receiving the torch from pupils.
However, many analysts believe that even with all his frailties Mugabe will try to hang on and even finish his term because he has long been accustomed to wielding power.
“It will be a struggle to the death,” said political analyst and Habakkuk Trust executive director Dumisani Nkomo. “In any event he (Mugabe) has a young wife and family who have become so comfortable in the trappings of power that they are not likely to countenance the loss of their privileged first family status.”
Assuming that he wants to hand over power, the question is to whom would he pass the baton, especially given long-standing internal power struggles within his Zanu PF party pitting Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
Mugabe has in the past suggested that such divisions have been the reason why he has remained at the helm of Zanu PF and government, saying he will only go if his party and the country are back on a stable, solid footing.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya says Mugabe feeds on such speculation and thrives on it and will simply exploit it all to maintain his stranglehold on power.
“He may well continue until the end. The focus should really be on what happens after 2018, because by then, surely age will prevent him from being a factor,” Ruhanya said.
Political analyst Alexander Rusero says Mugabe will hang on to the final end, hence no succession plan or even a discussion about the issue.
“If ever he had wanted to hand over power, then he would have campaigned for his successor, but clearly he wants to remain at the helm till death. That is in the nature of political power and you should not expect any wholesale changes in the MDCs either despite their defeat,” Rusero said.
Thus Mugabe will be sworn in for a further five-year term. Barring incapacitation or death, he is likely to sit out his full term despite speculation he might retire before the end of his term.
In fact, he has said it himself that he is going nowhere. After casting his vote with his family at Mhofu Primary School in Highfield during the polls Mugabe said: “I am going to serve the whole term.
Why should I put myself up as a candidate if I were to resign?”'