PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe last Friday said he was prepared to step down provided the right channels are followed to remove him from office by Zanu PF members, but quipped “how will this help”.
Addressing a rally in Bindura, Mugabe said some war veterans were of the belief he had overstayed in power, but he was ready to have an open and frank discussion with the freedom fighters.
Naturally, Mugabe’s remarks, particularly his belief that relinquishing power would be unhelpful, were met with scorn by Zimbabweans. Social media was a buzz over the weekend with many passing sarcastic comments suggesting Mugabe was out of touch with reality and delusionally thinks he is indispensable.
Just the week before, Mugabe had alsobeen on the receiving end of sarcastic jokes, scorn and ridicule over his abortive trip to India, purportedly called off for “security reasons”. It later emerged that he had not been invited to India in the first place and was not featuring on the programme.
Instead Mugabe went to Singapore where he has been receiving eye and cancer treatment. The aborted trip and his announcement over the weekend that he preferred to complete his term, despite his advanced age and failing health, will surely contribute to the battering of his image and erosion of what remains of his chequered legacy.
At 92, the veteran leader’s physical and mental faculties have evidently waned with the result that he has been guilty of the kind of errors of judgement that are threatening to wipe away the remaining positive vestiges of what has been a problematic legacy since he rose to power in 1980.
Only last year in January, Zimbabweans saw the funny side of his fall at the Harare International Airport upon his return from the African Union summit. He became the subject of worldwide banter on the social media.
Mugabe almost fell over once again when he visited India last October and had to be helped to stay on his feet by Prime Minister Narendra Modi (65).
Last September, Mugabe stunned the nation when he read the wrong speech during the official opening of the Third Session of the Eighth Parliament, instead reading the same speech which he had delivered during his State of the Nation Address he presented before Parliament just three weeks earlier.
Had all these incidents befallen a wiser head, they would have probably led to self-introspection, reflection and eventually a realisation that it is time to finally pass on the baton. The events should have been confirmation that indeed age and the attendant physical infirmities had taken their toll and it’s time to go, but it appears this is not so for Mugabe and those around him. His decision to cling on to power despite his age and failing health has presented a public relations nightmare for his staff, who have to come up with all sorts of excuses to avoid mentioning that Mugabe is going for treatment to far-flung Singapore, an example of a highly successful post-colonial society. The India debacle was a classic example.
“The President’s foray to India has to be understood as part of an elaboration of our Look East policy which continues to take on new facets and dimensions,” presidential spokesperson George Charamba said a fortnight ago as he attempted to clean up Mugabe’s mess.
Charamba’s statement only set the unrelenting cyberspace hounds on Mugabe’s back, with one reader scornfully asking: “How does making a whole trip to India, for a dance festival, falling asleep during meetings or falling over on podiums enhance the country’s diplomatic ties and economic interests?”
If at all there was some humour in these frequent gaffes, it can only be of the comic relief variety for what is happening with Mugabe has the hallmarks of a Shakespearean or Greek Tragedy. Mugabe is a man who initially won society’s approval and acceptance with his heroic exploits at the height of his power and popularity only to throw it all away on account of some fatal tragic flaws in his character which will ultimately bring him down along with the entire nation.
For Mugabe the tragic flaw may well be what another novelist Jane Austen described as “the tendency to think a little too well of himself” — narcissistically believing that he is infallible and indispensable.
Mugabe appears to be deluded about his greatness — delusions of grandeur — and, therefore, his indispensability to Zimbabwe as evidenced by his declaration during his party’s congress in December 2014.
“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,” bragged Mugabe. But the reality is rather different as everything he touches now turns to rust rather than to gold as it initially appeared to. Here is a man who started well in 1980 by matching his reconciliation rhetoric by knitting together Zimbabwe’s first cabinet composed of different racial groups and members of different parties that had fought each other in the 1970s independence war.
He had the Zimbabwean equivalent of the “Midas Touch”, turning what had become a veritable wasteland of conflict, into a promising relatively stable country with national reconciliation, as well as a functioning health and education system which saw the country achieve literacy rates well above 90%, despite human rights abuses.
But these and other gains of the early independence period have become a distant mirage, particularly for the younger generation born after 1980 and currently bearing the full brunt of the nonagenarian’s misrule.
The “born-frees” will point out that the statesman’s rhetoric that used to define Mugabe has been replaced by the language of banal rhetoric and expletives whose high priestess has now become his wife Grace. Mugabe has stooped low to support Grace’s invectives which were hurled first at former vice-president Joice Mujuru as a prelude to her sacking in December 2014 on untested allegations of plotting the ouster and assassination of Mugabe.
High up on the new list of unpardonable sins is that of insulting the First Lady as the likes of former War Veterans Minister Christopher Mutsvangwa and his wife Monica recently discovered, along with dozens of purged party youths.
As Mugabe moves further into sunset politics, the lasting images for many will be those of an intolerant leader who struggled hard to break falls, who left his country in ruins, without its own currency, while unleashing his wife to hurl invectives at real or imagined enemies.