While Mugabe (pictured) and his loyalists insist he is as “fit as a fiddle” amid growing fears of health failures and complications associated with old age, evidence Mugabe is struggling mounted this week.
On Wednesday he almost fell at the National Sports stadium during the Independence Day celebrations, suggesting infirmity and age are fast catching up with him.
Although Mugabe managed to stand for about one-and-a-half hours, inspecting the guard of honour, and watching it march past in slow and quick motion before delivering his address, he almost slipped and fell backwards while going onto the saluting dais, but was swiftly rescued by one of his aides. The incident seemed to confirm reports his close security unit has now been ordered to always stick with him and be on alert, especially going up steps.
It is now generally accepted in Zanu PF that if elections are to be held next year, it would not be practical or reasonable to field Mugabe as a candidate due to his advanced age and frailty, hence his hysterical demands elections this year, with or without a new constitution.
However, Mugabe’s candidacy is not only dogged by ill-health and old age. It is also beset by growing factionalism, fuelled by escalating power struggles within Zanu PF.
Senior party officials are now publicly tackling factionalism and succession, showing the situation is spinning out of control. In the past, openly talking about these issues was almost taboo in Zanu PF.
However, it is now becoming commonplace to hear senior Zanu PF officials talk about factionalism and succession battles centred around rival camps led by Vice-President Joice Mujuru and Defence minister Emmerson Mnangagwa.
After he was unexpectedly attacked last week by party administration secretary Didymus Mutasa over reports he was going to replace Mugabe who was rumoured “critically ill” while in Singapore recently, Mnangagwa hit back yesterday, saying “mentally-deranged people” were behind stories about his political ambitions.
“I’m surprised as you. I also read these rumours in the papers. There is no such thing and these are efforts of detractors bent on causing alarm and chaos among the authorities, both in Zanu PF and the government,” he said during a public lecture at Midlands State University in Gweru. “There fortunate thing is that we are so mature to be distracted by such mentally-deranged people. I, therefore, rest my case.”
Mutasa, more aligned to the Mujuru faction, last week provided the clearest indication yet that Mugabe’s succession battle is heightening ahead of elections when he said Mnangagwa would not replace Mugabe. “We have a hierarchy that we follow as a party; Mai (Mrs) Mujuru is better placed (to succeed Mugabe) as well as (co-vice-president) John Nkomo and even (Simon Khaya) SK Moyo (party chairman),” Mutasa said. “These are the people who can take over today. Whoever is funding this succession agenda has a wrong motive and should not be allowed to continue doing so.”
Mutasa’s comments exposed growing fissures within the Zanu PF hierarchy over the issue. Earlier this week senior Zanu PF politburo member and party strategist, Jonathan Moyo, currently a Mugabe diehard, slammed factional leaders, lamenting the “ugly dynamics of factionalism” in the party.
“When all is said and done, the most critical failure of the nationalist movement in Zimbabwe today is the rise of factionalism to its current shocking levels. While this has been bad enough, what has made it particularly worse is that the type of factionalism which has taken root within our nationalist movement is content free in ideological and policy terms,” Moyo said. “This is terrible because when factionalism has no ideological or policy content it means it is only a personal project of an individual with no public or national purpose of value and invariably ends up becoming private, tribal or regional.”
Moyo warned Zanu PF’s “Generation 40” to be “vigilant against being trapped by content-free factionalists in pursuit of patronage which of late is being peddled under the cover of succession politics”.
Zanu PF spokesperson Rugare Gumbo last night confirmed factionalism was intensifying in his party, saying there was an urgent need to step the crisis.
“Yes there have been complaints and petitions from all over the provinces, but we don’t have a position as a party. We will meet as the politburo and the political commissar will present a report to enable us deal with the complaints,” he said.
“We are having DCC elections and we have issues in Mashonaland Central, Manicaland and Midlands and other provinces, so we will look at all those issues.”
Gumbo said the factionalism would not necessarily undermine Mugabe and Zanu PF during elections. “In the final analysis, we will come together. We are like wounded lions, when we are under attack we will come together,” he said.
While Mugabe addressed Independence Day celebrations appearing well, speculation on the president’s health has however not died down. Although Mugabe did not personally seek to reassure people he was fit, some hired youths tried to. As he walked into the stadium a section of youths who were seated next to the VIP section and members of Mbare Chimurenga Choir sang in Shona: “Havamborwarakunyeperana (He is not sick, that’s a lie), Vakasimba Gushongo … (Mugabe is very fit).”
However, Mugabe’s misstep almost spoiled the party for him. A Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation camera person captured part of the incident beamed live, but the camera was deliberately shifted focus away from him, while the vision mixer moved in to change the picture.
Mugabe read his speech for 50 minutes but it was evident that his energy and oratorical skills had waned. He spoke slowly and his speech was rather incoherent.
Although Mugabe, who has been in power since Independence in 1980 wants another five–year term, many people in Zanu PF now fear he will not be a viable candidate.
Reports say Mugabe ran for office in 2008 against the advice of his personal doctor who feared he would not sustain rigorous campaigning.
Now four years on, infirmity and old age seem to be slowing him down and this, coupled with factionalism and fights over succession, seems to be making his candidacy unviable and risky.