Mugabe, beware the Ides of March

WHEN he was forewarned by the seer to “beware the Ides of March”, Julius Caesar, the Roman ruler, did not take it seriously.


Indeed, when the Ides of March did arrive, Caesar said to the seer in jest that the Ides of March had come, implying that contrary to his warning, nothing had happened.
The seer acknowledged that the Ides of March had indeed come but he still warned that they had not gone yet.
And, sure enough, later that day, the Roman general met his end at the hands of Brutus and Cassius.
Ever since, the Ides of March, an otherwise ordinary expression signifying the 15th day of March, has carried an ominous meaning.
For most, it is an expression that has come to signify impending doom during the month of March.
President Robert Mugabe must, surely, wonder whether March 29 represents the modern day version of the Ides of March as he faces the sternest challenge to his long reign by adversaries in Morgan Tsvangirai and Simba Makoni.
It is difficult to comprehend what, if anything, would be served by giving Mugabe another term of office.
For a man who was once great, is this not the case of one step too far? It is a shot at the title that he did not have to take.
After 28 years, the aggregate of which has produced mass poverty and despair, it requires more than a stretch of the imagination as to what exactly he can achieve in the next five years.
Those of us who follow the oldest of sports, the sweet science, know that, perhaps, the greatest weakness of any fighter is the inability to acknowledge when to hang the gloves.
Few of the greatest boxers have been able to retire in their prime. Instead, they have pushed on, well beyond their finest days. And they have suffered for it.
Somehow, the old game has a force of attraction that perhaps can only be truly appreciated by those few men who have the courage to step into the ring.
Perhaps it is the money.
Perhaps it is just the love of this oldest of games.
Perhaps it is just the yearning for the spotlight which retirement seems to wipe off once they are out of the ring.
Perhaps they just cannot bear watching the younger fighters hogging the limelight which they once enjoyed in abundance during their prime.
But all too often, when they fail to heed the call of retirement, and step into the ring, they bring tears to our eyes.
The spectacle is too painful to the eye: watching the tired, haggard and diminished warriors — mere shadows of their former selves. It is, too often, a pitiful sight.
They saw it that October night in 1980 when the man universally acknowledged as The Greatest, Muhammad Ali, succumbed, in his twilight years, to a young and fitter Larry Holmes, himself a former trainee who idolised The Greatest.
It is said that Holmes might not have fought the man he had idolised for years — he would not have wished to exploit what were clear weaknesses in an ageing  master of the ring. 
But the lure of the big fight, the lure of money and most of all the undying ambition of The Greatest to relive the glory days and make history conspired to make the fight.
Those of us who idolise Ali would not have wished him the punishment he received that October night.
Those who witnessed the fight say, at some stage, even Holmes eventually reduced the tempo to avoid further damage to his old master.
In Round 11, the battle was stopped, much to the relief of those watching, who, it is said, could hardly bear witnessing the sad demise of man they all called The Greatest.
Ali didn’t have to take that fight — he was already the greatest in many eyes. But he, too, fell for the lure of the final shot at glory.
But The Greatest was not the first and certainly not the last of the brave men that trade leather to fail that test.
His old nemesis, George Foreman, made a comeback at age 45.
Another great warrior, Evander Holyfield, is still fighting, well into his 40s, against many of his admirers’ wishes.
We winced recently when news broke that Holyfield and that other great, Mike Tyson, intend to fight again.
Why, we ask? Perhaps, it is the money.
But surely, this is a battle of old warriors that no-one seriously wants. They ought to know, as most fans do, that their finest days are behind them and they have nothing more to offer.
And that too has an uncanny resemblance to the old warrior of Zimbabwean politics.
It is too sad, way too terrible, to witness the demise of the old master, Robert Mugabe, still lumbering in the ring — a clear failure to resist the lure of the last big fight.
His main opponents are young, fit and popular. Both once idolised Mugabe during his prime.
They once sat in his corner and admired him, hoping one day they would step into his boots. They never thought they would have to fight him. They probably would not have wished to fight him.
But the old warrior is too overwhelmed by that spirit that fighters find hard to resist — an attempt, perhaps, to recapture the glory days.
There is nothing more that Mugabe can offer. He might boast the stamina that men of his age can, at best, vaguely remember.
But, listening to him, even the voice is slow, tired and betrays a tortured soul. Not even the memories of a glorious past can put a veil on the disaster around him.
This is a fighter who, like the great Ali, needed an honest corner-man to throw in the towel to save him from further punishment and humiliation. This is the pugilist who requires realistic advisers to tell him there was nothing more he can offer.
But they have either been silent or screaming hysterically in his defence — you have to wonder if they are not selfishly pushing him for further humiliation.
Because, you see, even if he “wins” by some technicality it has become apparent that the best days are behind him.
For, if nothing else, the economy itself is the greatest voter here; the biggest voice of them all. Clearly, it is saying “no more”; it is saying “no, Robert, there is nothing more you can do to make me better”.
In politics, as in boxing, the lure of another great fight can be too powerful to resist. But the ability to know when to give up is a necessary part of self-preservation.
As Mugabe goes into the election, we cannot help but visualise the old, tired warrior taking unnecessary punishment from his adversaries.
But then, you pause and remember that there is always the danger — the risk of what a beleaguered fighter might do in that ring.
We saw it on that night of June 28 1997, when Tyson, himself a former great, resorted to raw animalistic behaviour, when he bit Holyfield’s ear.
Yes, when the going gets tough, as it surely is for Mugabe, the old warrior could yet get very nasty.
That would be sad but the use of extra-legal methods will hardly be a surprise, given that the old fighter really finds himself in a very difficult position at the moment.
And here, the external referees will have to call time. They will have to show that the
old warrior cannot get away with such behaviour.
l Dr Alex Magaisa is based at the University of Kent Law School and can be contacted at wamagaisa@yahoo.co.uk or a.t.magaisa@kent.ac.uk