HARARE - Just like he did when he recently received a “special massage chair” from his Cabinet lieutenants, President Robert Mugabe has sent social media into a frenzy over his shaven head.
This comes after the nonagenarian’s striking chiskop also caught mourners at Wednesday’s burial in Harare of the late Brigadier General James Murozvi at the National Heroes Acre by surprise.
Mugabe’s bald head is not only a major dinner talking point, it has gone viral on popular social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.
For long famous for his conservative dressing sense, including expensive designer suits and smart short hair, the nonagenarian has recently been embracing an atypical dress style — culminating in his shaved head “hairstyle” on Wednesday.
“Seeing him with his chiskop hit us like a bolt from the blue, and for a moment some of us were even confused whether it was him or not on Wednesday,” a surprised Zanu PF politburo member told the Daily News yesterday.
But Information minister Chris Mushohwe was among the many other bigwigs who saw nothing “unusual” about Mugabe’s new hairstyle.
“They want to tell the president how to cut his hair? What kind of society is this? That’s absolutely nonsensical . . . they are mad,” he said.
Still, Mugabe’s new hairstyle almost broke the Internet, drawing all kinds of responses and speculation.
Some people said light-heartedly that the bald head gives Mugabe “a sophisticated look” which made him look much younger.
But others were not so charitable, wondering why he had decided to ditch his traditional short hair and even speculating that this suggested that he was not well.
One Twitter user, Discent Collins Bajila, cheerfully predicted booming business for barbers, saying Mugabe’s shaven head was likely to trigger a new national craze for bald heads.
“If you have a barbershop, please prepare yourself for a stampede of Zanu PF people coming for chizkop, thank me later,” he tweeted.
Australia-based Zanu PF supporter, Reason Wafawarova, also posted Mugabe’s picture and captioned it: “Unconquerable”.
A prominent businessman who also gave Mugabe’s new hairstyle the thumbs up pointed to research that suggested that men who shave their heads “often appear tougher and more powerful than others”.
“A shaved head indicates dominance, authority and being in control. Even some of Hollywood’s leading stars such as Bruce Willis, Dwayne Johnson and Vin Diesel like shaving their heads and come across as tough guys in their movies,” he said.
Two weeks ago, Zimbabwe was also abuzz after Mugabe was given a “special massage chair” by his ministers, as part of gifts to mark his 93rd birthday celebrations.
The gift immediately raised eyebrows — sparking both mirth and frenzied debate, especially on social media, about its “meaning” and symbolism in the light of Mugabe’s advanced age, declining health and his wife Grace’s recent controversial statement that he could rule from a wheel chair.
At the brief chair presentation ceremony in Harare, which was exclusively covered by State media, Mugabe was also given a 9-carat gold watch and pen by his lieutenants.
But it was the chair which set tongues wagging after the gaffe-prone State broadcaster, the ZBC, described the chair in its initial online reports as a “special mobile chair” — giving the erroneous impression that this was a wheelchair.
The much-derided broadcaster later changed this to reflect that this was “a massage chair”, although by then the damage had been done.
The only leader Zimbabweans have known since the country gained its independence from Britain in April 1980, Mugabe — who is also the world’s oldest elected leader — has in recent months appeared very tired and jaded.
This much became more evident during the nonagenarian’s 93rd birthday celebrations that were held in Matobo, Matabeleland South, in February.
While still very sharp mentally, especially given his age, Mugabe also struggled with his speech during his earlier annual birthday interview with the ZBC, in which he frequently paused for breath in between his answers.
Mugabe’s health has over the past 10 years or so become a major topic of discussion both at home and abroad.
This has been more so as the nonagenarian has in recent years been making regular visits to Singapore for medical checkups — amid wild speculation about his real state of health in the absence of official information.
In February this year, Mugabe once again visited his doctors in the Far East in what his office said then was a scheduled trip, even as this came on the back of another visit during the festive season for what was also described at the time as a routine checkup trip.
The nonagenarian has suffered a number of public mishaps in recent years, including his widely-reported tumble at Harare International Airport in February 2015, as he walked off a podium.
This happened after he had just finished addressing his supporters after returning from Ethiopia where he had gone to take over the rotating chairmanship of the African Union.
Although he appeared unhurt after the fall, the incident — which occurred in the full view of gathered bigwigs, Zanu PF rank and file members and journalists — triggered panic among senior government officials and security chiefs, who all scrambled to help him get on his feet, and to ensure that he was alright.
Mugabe also later stumbled in New Delhi, at an India-Africa summit, and had to use a wheelchair at the 60th Asian-African Conference Commemoration that was held in Indonesia.
Offensively, the nonagenarian has also had to endure sickening jokes and false reports about his alleged death — prompting him to put down these sadists by saying that he had “died” many times more than Jesus Christ.
“I have died many times. That’s where I have beaten Christ. Christ died once and resurrected once. I am as fit as a fiddle. At this age, I can still go some distance, can’t I?
“There are things one must do for oneself. Don’t drink at all, don’t smoke, you must exercise and eat vegetables and fruit,” he said an interview with the ZBC, ahead of his 88th birthday in 2012.
Despite his advanced age and deteriorating health, as well as the growing pressure within his ruling Zanu PF for him to step down, Mugabe has thus far not dropped any hint of his retirement plans — moving recently to effectively shut the door on his lieutenants in his fractured party who are angling to succeed him.