HARARE - Just over four years after the Daily News first raised the sensitive subject of whether President Robert Mugabe was still fit to rule, a new war has broken out in the strife-torn ruling Zanu PF over the frail nonagenarian’s state of health and his capacity to remain at the helm of the country.
This follows typically off-colour utterances by Mugabe’s controversial wife, Grace, at a rally in Mashonaland West last week, as well as ill-judged comments by the embattled Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa that he made to a London-based magazine and over which he is receiving factional stick.
Speaking at Murombedzi Growth Point, the gaffe-prone Grace said, “Don’t criticise me because you hate my husband. Time will come when president Mugabe is gone, (and at that point) you will regret and wish that the president was around” — in remarks that some in Zanu PF interpreted as meaning that all was not well with Mugabe.
On his part, Mnangagwa — answering a seemingly innocuous New African magazine question on the post-Mugabe scenario — said, “We shall miss him (Mugabe) dearly (when he leaves). He is an outstanding leader and human being” — in comments that have placed him in the eye of a humongous storm in the ruling party which is wracked by deadly factional and succession wars.
Zanu PF insiders who spoke to the Daily News yesterday said the hullabaloo about the well-being of Mugabe reflected the ugly divisions that continue to devour the ruling party, and how many ambitious bigwigs were already thinking about life after the nonagenarian who is increasingly showing his advanced age and declining health.
During the burial of High Court judge Andrew Mutema at the Heroes Acre at the weekend, Mugabe moved around with the assistance of Grace, taking brief rests as he followed the undertakers.
And during official opening of the Harare Agricultural Show, Mugabe moved around with the assistance of Mozambique president Filipe Nyasu. The nonagenarian has also lately cut down on the length of his speeches as calls for his retirement or resignation grow.
Mnangagwa’s remarks on the post-Mugabe future were publicly criticised by the minister of Higher Education, Jonathan Moyo, on Twitter — who went on to say the sentiments were “premature”.
“This (latest Zanu PF) war is about the health of the president and how this impacts on the multi-layered quests by various interested parties to succeed him, even as they all pretend that they are engaging in this fight for him and that they don’t want him to pass on,” a central committee member said bluntly.
The Daily News first broached the sensitive subject of whether Mugabe was still fit to rule in its relaunch issue in March 2011 — following nearly eight years of its forced and unjust closure by the nonagenarian’s government.
In addition to his advanced age and increasingly poor health, which is commensurate with people of his age, and which often sees the nonagenarian making frequent and costly State-funded visits to the Far East for medical attention, Mugabe is also having to contend with arguably his biggest political challenge since Zimbabwe’s independence from Britain in April 1980 — an open rebellion by many senior members of his ruling Zanu PF party who are impatient to see him leave office.
Analysts and spokespersons for opposition political parties who have previously spoken to the Daily News have said that it is time the nonagenarian stepped down as he had also allegedly now become a “lame duck” and “absentee” president who was often travelling outside the country on “frivolous” missions or for medical attention than actually governing the country.
A medical practitioner who spoke to the Daily News recently, but who cannot be quoted openly for professional reasons, said 91 years was “a blessed but very advanced age” where conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease were common.
“There is no doubt that the president has been blessed with a long, relatively healthy life. But even for him, one can see that age has caught up with him, as is natural. Only about one in a million people have the same aptitude they had when they were 50 at that age,” the doctor said.
He said it was generally unwise to saddle people in that age group with the kind of stress and responsibility as that of a president, as they were no longer at peak performance both physically and mentally.
“Diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia at that age mean that one tends to have a short memory. Such people also usually dwell on the past and live their life in the past and fail to adapt to the present.
“Concentration is also a big challenge because people at that age find it difficult to stay awake for long periods. If you have to make an executive decision, you need to have an aptitude for current affairs,” the doctor added.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC has said it was now time for Mugabe to pass on the baton stick to somebody else, who could stand up to the rigours of the job.
“Apparently, his health is failing and I think he is not doing himself any good by clinging onto power whilst he is now in that state of health.
“It’s time for him to take a bow from the hazardous and extremely demanding job of engaging in active politics. He should start writing his memoirs.
“In fact, I can volunteer to write his biography for absolutely no charge! The old man should simply step down and rest,” party spokesperson Obert Gutu said.
Gladys Hlatwayo, a Hubert Humphrey fellow at the University of Minnesota said as Mugabe was getting older and more frail, the centre within Zanu PF was increasingly shifting.
“It looks like the wife is now in the driving seat. The events in Zanu PF over the past six months support this theory. He (Mugabe) is human like all of us and other 91-year-olds are long retired and enjoying entertaining their grandchildren.
“This is why people are sceptical about his ability to rule at that advanced age,” she said.