HARARE – President Robert Mugabe’s deeply-divided Zanu PF reached melting point yesterday after the frail nonagenarian obliviously ploughed through the wrong speech — embarrassingly reading the same speech which he delivered during his much-criticised State-of-the-Nation address three weeks ago as he opened Parliament in Harare.
By Mugove Tafirenyika
The mortifying boob immediately triggered damaging political conspiracies and counter recriminations within his post-congress Zanu PF, which is already almost on its knees because of its seemingly unstoppable factional and succession wars — amid claims that he had been set up by some of his minions to fast track his long over due retirement.
And as expected, the grave error rekindled calls by critics and the opposition for the nonagenarian to stand down in his interest, that of his family and the country, as his advanced age and failing health become increasingly manifest — just over seven months after he fell off a podium at Harare International Airport in another worrisome incident that elicited widespread concerns about his health.
Curiously, Zanu PF legislators gleefully ululated and clapped their hands — urging him on — even as it was abundantly clear that “the emperor had no clothes”, as one opposition MP put it yesterday.
Mugabe’s spokesperson, George Charamba, was seen frantically approaching Vice President Emmerson Mnangagwa during the nonagenarian’s calamitous speech, in a futile endeavour to try and rescue his boss from further embarrassment.
“There has been a mix-up of speeches resulting in a situation where His Excellency the President delivered the wrong speech. The mix-up happened in his secretarial office, therefore the delivery in Parliament should be set aside. The error is sincerely regretted and corrective measures are being considered,” Charamba said afterwards.
But what shocked most people in Parliament, including members of the diplomatic corps, was that Mugabe completely failed to recognise that the speech he was reading was the same as his State-of-the-Nation address, word for word.
In the aftermath of the calamitous speech, Zanu PF Buhera West MP, Oliver Mandipaka — a former top policeman — made a complete fool of himself — describing the nonagenarian’s wrong speech as “brilliant”.
“As usual it was a masterpiece. It touched on very important issues and the fact that he repeated what he said when he presented the State-of-the-Nation address shows he is keen to emphasise those issues,” Mandipaka said without batting an eyelid.
However, opposition MDC MPs tore into Mugabe, reminding all and sundry that the nonagenarian had now allegedly demonstrated beyond doubt that it was time for him to step down and hand power to a younger leader.
“It is a tragedy that the president could not even pick that he was reading from the same script that he read out only last month. It is embarrassing and the only honourable way he can save himself from further mortification is to resign immediately,” Trevor Saruwaka, the MDC MP for Mutasa Central said.
Kuwadzana East MP, Nelson Chamisa said he initially thought Mugabe would eventually delve into his opening speech, but was shocked when he concluded his speech without outlining the legislative agenda.
“I was listening and saying to myself maybe the president wants to continue from where he left off when he addressed the nation last month, but I was shocked when he ended his speech without saying anything on the legislative trajectory that Parliament is supposed to take during this session,” Chamisa said.
Fortunately for Mugabe, Parliament had suspended television and radio broadcasting of his speech after opposition parties threatened to disrupt the event — meaning that the nation was spared witnessing this spectacle live.
Recent matter-of-fact suggestions by controversial First Lady Grace Mugabe and Mnangagwa that time was not on Mugabe’s side also rekindled calls for the nonagenarian to stand down.
Analysts and opposition spokespersons who spoke to the Daily News then said both Grace and Mnangagwa — even though the latter had come under predictable heavy fire from his political foes within the warring Zanu PF — were “spot-on” in their observations that Mugabe was in the twilight of his life and political career.
They added that the seemingly synchronised pronouncements by the two could also have been meant to prepare the nation for Mugabe’s departure from office — all of which necessitated that the frail nonagenarian vacated office immediately.
Speaking at Murombedzi Growth Point a fortnight ago, 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 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 said the hullabaloo about the well-being of Mugabe reflected the ugly divisions that continued 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 last month, Mugabe moved around with the assistance of Grace, taking several brief rests in the process.
And during the official opening of the Harare Agricultural Show, Mugabe moved around with the assistance of Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi. In addition, the nonagenarian has also lately cut down on his typically-long speeches as the calls for his retirement or resignation grow.
The Daily News first broached the sensitive subject of whether Mugabe was still fit to rule in its re-launch 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.
At the same time, and as Zanu PF continues to be ravaged by its seemingly unstoppable factional and succession wars — amidst Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown which is blamed on the ruling party’s misrule — a former close Mugabe confidante, Didymus Mutasa, has said that the ruling party would implode completely when the nonagenarian leaves office or dies.
The former Presidential Affairs minister also said the only thing that could save the country from dying with Mugabe and Zanu PF was if the embattled nonagenarian passed on the leadership baton now.
“The situation in the country is dire, and the economy is in the intensive care. You can hardly find a bank that will lend you money these days. I know this as a new farmer myself. How then are people supposed to prepare for the new farming season, for example?
“In the meantime, we hear all the time that the VPs are fighting among themselves, and we hear that this one and that one are also fighting. They (post-congress Zanu PF leaders) accused us of plotting to destroy the party. Now, who is destroying the party?
“Of course, they were lying when they expelled us from the party and they know that. We were expelled from our party by mafikizolos (Johnie-come-latelies). The president was misled and now we all fear that the party will not last long,” Mutasa said. – Daily News