Cunning Mugabe 'charms' his foes

HARARE - Any visitor to Zimbabwe watching local television on Thursday afternoon would have been forgiven for thinking that the characterisation of President Robert Mugabe and his government by the media is wrong.

The 92-year-old Zimbabwean leader, despite his old age and visibly frail frame, cut a happy character when he delivered his annual parliamentary opening speech, despite the current economic turmoil in Zimbabwe.

Crucially, the nonagenarian extended warm greetings to opposition MPs who had a day earlier been sent death threats by his henchmen ostensibly to stop them from heckling the veteran Zanu PF leader whose government has taken a lot of flak following the appointment of his son-in-law to head operations at the struggling flag carrier — Air Zimbabwe.

Instead of receiving a hostile reception from the opposition MPs, Mugabe was warmly welcomed as he greeted them by clapping his hands in their directions.

In a respectful gesture, the MDC MPs gave him a rousing response as they, in unison, clapped back in deafening sounds that Mugabe appreciated.

But they waited for their moment to exchange light banter with Mugabe.

“Is this the right speech,” asked Mugabe as he prepared to deliver his message, sending the gallery into raptures.

“Mudhara vanhu ava matsotsi tarisisai vangakupai (These people are cunning. Please cross check you can be given) a wrong speech,” the MDC MPs told Mugabe, again sending ripples in Parliament.

Both sets of MPs and Mugabe himself, were aware of the gaffe made by the Zimbabwean leader in September last year during the same occasion when he read a wrong speech.

The increasingly frail nonagenarian read the same speech he had delivered the previous moment during his State of the Nation Address (Sona).

He failed to notice his mistake as he repeated his state of the nation address in its entirety.

Again, MDC MPs were sent death threats on the eve of Mugabe’s address to Parliament last year.

It was hard to believe that the moments of respect and appreciation between Mugabe and the opposition were temporary.

But temporary they were.

Just as the MPs were making their way into Parliament, MDC MP Trevor Saruwaka was barred from entering the august House for wearing a jacket adorned with colours of the Zimbabwe flag.

Government now criminalises the use of the Zimbabwe flag outside national functions after it became the rallying point for pro-democracy groups in their quest for change.

The Zimbabwe flag was used to start a revolutionary social media campaign dubbed #ThisFlag by a brave clergyman — Evan Mawarire — who is now living in exile.

Saruwaka’s treatment was in contrast to the VIP welcome which was extended to most MPs upon arriving at Parliament.

The spooks appeared miffed by Saruwaka’s jacket which has been popularised by political activists such as Patson Dzamara who have been promoting the jacket under #ThisBachi.

Outside Parliament, heavily armed riot police and water cannons patrolled the streets while keeping an eye on potential protesters.

Police cordoned off four streets for what on paper appeared to be routine security measures although those familiar with the under currents knew that extra care was to be given to Thursday’s event because of growing anger against Mugabe by disaffected ordinary Zimbabweans.

Any visitor to the country, by end of Thursday’s parliamentary opening, would have known that events in Parliament and the surrounding areas were just big contradictions.

As Mugabe made his way out of Parliament, the hired crowds, including Vapostori, gave him a huge send-off as he headed home in preparation for departure to Malaysia.

Afterwards, the riot police quickly dispersed his supporters as it was time to patrol the adjacent Africa Unity Square, which anti-Mugabe protesters view as the equivalent of Egypt’s Tahrir Square.

Pro-democracy and opposition groups in Egypt used the Tahrir Square as a gathering point to drive out their former despotic leader, Hosni Mubarak.

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