2015: Annus horribilis for Mugabe

THE year 2015 was certainly annus horribilis — a year of disaster or misfortune — for President Robert Mugabe on many fronts, mainly at the personal and political level.

Elias Mambo

The year began on a horrendous note for Mugabe who entered the New Year while recuperating from an operation he underwent in Singapore in December during his annual holidays.

To complicate things further, the ageing Mugabe was also helping to nurse his wife Grace, who fell ill and had to undergo an operation, resulting in him extending his annual leave by a week.

Mugabe returned from the Far East on January 23 whereas he was supposed to resume his duties on January 15. He apologised for that.

A few days after his arrival, Mugabe flew to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, were he assumed the African Union chairmanship, providing a silver lining in the rather dark cloud to the year.

But while he was still celebrating the appointment, he made international headlines soon after arriving back into the country on February 4 when he fell as he walked down a small staircase off a podium after addressing military chiefs, government officials and party supporters at Harare International Airport.


The dramatic fall — which symbolised his declining power — was witnessed by thousands of Zanu PF supporters who had been bussed to give a grand welcome to the President and also congratulate him on his appointment.

The incident went viral on social media, with Mugabe’s critics the world over urging the nonagenarian to call it quits and hand-over power to a younger leader.

The incident, which highlighted Mugabe’s old age and increasing infirmity, presented nightmares to government spin-doctors, who tried in vain to downplay the incident.

Presidential spokesperson George Charamba dismissed it as “just a slip,” saying Mugabe tripped over a poorly-laid carpet at the airport, while the then Information minister Jonathan Moyo who witnessed the incident first hand said the real news lay in the misrepresentation of the incident by malcontents in the media than his fall.

“The misrepresentations and morbid celebrations of the incident by malcontents is the real news here and not the alleged fall as there was none,” said Moyo.

“What happened is that the President tripped over a hump on the carpet on one of the steps of the dais as he was stepping down from the platform but he remarkably managed to break the fall on his own. I repeat that the President managed to break the fall.”

Between then and May, Mugabe travelled all over the world and to many African countries to witness inauguration ceremonies but he got a rude awakening in Nigeria in May when he was stripped of his security before being harassed by journalists, while attending President Muhammadu Buhari’s inauguration on May 29.

Mugabe, who travelled to Nigeria in his capacity as AU chairperson, was so angry that he was denied salutation as an elderly African statesman and AU chair that he had to storm out of the country to Equatorial Guinea.

While in Nigeria he was ambushed by Nigerian TV journalist Adeola Fayehun who confronted him over when he will quit, an incident which showed he has fallen from grace to grass. The veteran leader has been in power since independence in 1980.

There was further embarrassment for Mugabe in early August when he was booed and heckled by members of the opposition in parliament while delivering his state of the nation address.

As if that was not enough, Mugabe stunned the nation when he read the wrong speech during the official opening of parliament in September. For 25 minutes, he instead delivered the same speech he had read three weeks back while presenting the state of the nation address, without noticing his mistake.

The incident made international headlines and was used by his critics to argue that he was no longer fit enough to govern.

On October 29, he was back in international headlines when he struggled to go over a small tread on his way to the podium at the India-Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi, India. He stumbled backwards but was rescued and assisted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and some aides.

Mugabe battles prostate cancer and eye problems and he is widely seen as no longer fit to rule with close government officials and aides saying old age and health problems are taking a heavy toll on him.

Government officials and aides close to Mugabe say they have closely observed in recent years that the president has been fast deteriorating in terms of physical stature, mental alertness and health.

One official close to him recently told the Zimbabwe Independent that Zimbabweans are grossly under-estimating how old-age, prostate cancer, eye problems and other opportunistic infections associated with dotage have ravaged and taken their toll on the veteran politician.

“If you are close to him you would have noticed by now that compared to the past few years he currently has reduced reflexes and co-ordination and serious difficulty with balance. That is why his wife always keeps very close to him in public these days just in case he falls,” the official said.

“Mugabe has been battling these problems, prostate cancer, eye cataracts and other problems associated with old age for some years now.”

While his health continues to deteriorate, Mugabe has vowed to hold on to power resisting the winds of change in leadership that has blown across Africa in recent years.

“I am here for as long as I am still sane, with good memory and will power. I thank God for giving me extra strength. I still have a bright mind; I still have will. I know our history more than you do. I know the wishes of those heroes and those who lie elsewhere more than you do. I know the wishes of the chiefs, dead and alive,” Mugabe said at the Zanu PF congress in December 2014.

Mugabe has witnessed the winds of change and leadership changing hands in countries like Mozambique, Malawi, Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and South Africa, while he persists “I am here for as long as I am still sane, with good memory and will power.”

While a new crop of leaders continues to come and go, Mugabe is still hanging onto power by his fingernails despite reducing Zimbabwe to an economic shambles and a sea of poverty.

Looking at Mugabe who turns 92 in the next two months, being assisted to ascend the dais and buffeted by ill-health and frailty, further confirmed and drives home the message that he is now just too old and infirm, suggesting he is no longer fit to govern at all.

He can nolonger continue pretending to be as fit as a fiddle. His infirmity as a nonagenarian is now visible and indisputable.

By continuing to deny it, Mugabe and followers are now only helping to caricature him, while further damaging his image — whatever is left of it.

The ruling party, at its 15th People’s annual conference in Victoria Falls endorsed Mugabe as its candidate for elections in 2018 despite the frailty he has shown, by falling twice, reading a wrong speech and being aided as he can no longer walk freely without being offered support.

His failure of stem Zanu PF factionalism and economic implosion shows he is now on the sunset of his long political career. 2015 showed this clearly.


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