AT a time when Zimbabweans and other interested people are asking whether he would finish his current five-year term or when will he quit, President Robert Mugabe came out this week before his 90th birthday today to dash hopes of many when he suggested he will hang in perhaps until his last breath.
EDITOR’S MEMO by DUMISANI MULEYA
Against a backdrop of multifaceted problems buffeting the country, particularly social and economic troubles dramatised by the current liquidity crunch, and the urgent need for decisive intervention, Mugabe says he is going nowhere.
Looking glum, frail and insecure on state television, Mugabe — who this week flew once again to the Far East for medical attention amid never-ending speculation about his health — said his retirement is not yet due.
Talking in the context of Zanu PF factionalism and infighting, he claimed discussing his exit only further fractures and weakens his party, indicating without any sense of irony he did not want to go down with it.
“But why should it be discussed when it is not due? Is it due?” he said. “The leadership still exists that runs the country. In other words, I am still there.”
Mugabe went further: “The people can discuss it if they want, but the moment they start discussing it they go into factions and then you find the party dividing itself and so why discuss it when it is not due?
“When the day comes and I retire, yes, sure, the day will come, but I do not want to leave my party in tatters. I want to leave it intact.”
There was nothing really new about what he said, for he has always insinuated he wants to stay in office until his death. So many think he wants to be president for life, particularly given the precedent set by his four deputies who died in office between 1999 and 2013.
The motivation for that has always been thought to be his fear of being held to account for his regime’s excesses in power: corruption, plunder, violence, human rights abuses and murders.
His mortal fear of being brought to book thus overrides all other considerations. The best insurance seems to be dying in office.
Of course, some have spoken about the need to safeguard his young family as part of his drive to remain persistent and determined in difficult circumstances.
Yet it may well be that Mugabe is in denial. It seems Zimbabwe is gradually going through a transition even if he may not want it or quit.
You don’t have to be an expert on Mugabe’s rule and the politics of transition to hear echoes of the end of an era here.
Zimbabwe now seems to be running on auto-pilot. There appears to be some loss of control. After spending part of December and the whole of January away on holiday, Mugabe came back at the beginning of the month.
But no sooner had he returned to work than he left the country for a conference in Malawi. Cabinet, which doesn’t meet in his absence, had to be postponed last week. This week it had to be brought forward to allow him to leave for Singapore for health reasons.
Ironically, before every election there is always rumour Mugabe will retire afterwards. However, subsequently he digs in and refuses to discuss his future. But then again it seems there is a huge gap between his boundless political ambition and the reality of his natural attrition.
Zimbabwe is going through Mugabe’s last years, if not months, in power all the same, whether he quits at his party’s elective congress in December or not.