ORDINARILY President Robert Mugabe’s embarrassing tumble at the Harare International Airport soon after addressing party supporters upon his arrival from the African Union summit should not be an issue, but then when the mighty fall we can’t ignore it.
Editor’s Memo with Dumisani Muleya
For the president did not actually collapse as in falling down and fainting, but tumbled while walking on a carpet from the podium. Semantics aside; that he fell is not in doubt, but the impact and attendant drama are the controversial fallout.
Putting aside clumsy and inept spin-doctoring by some of Mugabe’s overzealous publicists and morbid gloating by his detractors, anyone can fall, be it a toddler, teenager, adult or an elderly person like him. I don’t know about Jesus.
So this must not be an issue under normal circumstances. The rather hilarious or ignominious episode should have generally drawn amusement or sympathy from various audiences.
However, this is Mugabe we are talking about, not some obscure president out there.
He is soon to be 91 years old; been hanging onto power for 35 years and has remained in there by hook or crook. His rule has been mainly characterised by storms, adversities and tragedies, over and above patches of positive deliverables and success.
He is one of those leaders in the world who enjoy instant global recognition, for better or worse. And, like figures such as his old friends Hugo Chávez, Muammar Gaddafi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (let’s leave genuine revolutionaries including Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and Mao Zedong alone), Mugabe is more than controversial.
He is the subject of deep admiration by his dwindling band of supporters at home and away that easily morphs into hagiographical worship, and resentment that often mutates into equally intense hatred.
So inevitably, his legacy will be as hard to assess objectively as that of all other deeply polarising leaders, for instance Mao, Castro and Che. But Mugabe’s deeds and activities often stoke intense and even emotional debates, despite that there are some incontrovertible aspects of them.
So while anyone can trip up and fall, this is the context of why the incident has attracted so much attention.
Further, he is an old man who is in denial about his old age and resultant health complications; he claims to be as fit as a fiddle because he eats well and exercises.
Mugabe is also a head of state under pressure from his own people who say he is no longer fit to govern given his disastrous leadership, policies and parlous state of the economy.
Moreover, the political symbolism of his fall looms large. His tumble symbolises the collapse of the country in many respects.
Things are falling apart under his rule. And of course, given this, he realistically can’t be a candidate for Zanu PF in 2018 at 94 to finish at 99 in 2023.
All these things combined and many other dynamics make his fall not just newsworthy but a major cause for concern as his well-being or condition impacts on how the country is run, people’s lives and the nation’s future.
We also can’t ignore that the incident itself was sudden, dramatic and shocking.
Although Mugabe did not collapse and pass out, his falling shows he is now badly struggling with old age and associated health complications.
These days he usually looks worn-out, frail and vulnerable, hence such a mishap. One day he might actually collapse, with even more dire consequences for himself and the country.
Critically, his tumble also carries serious political symbolism, meaning and implications for him and his future. It also has a bearing on his party and the nation’s prospects.
In many ways it symbolises his fast diminishing power and dwindling influence, as well as signifying that the end might as well be just nigh.
That’s what happens when the mighty fall.