ZIMBABWE – For someone who is vice-president of the country and whose chances of one day becoming the president are not exactly remote, Emmerson Mnangagwa is expected to take Parliament business seriously.
It is difficult to understand why Mnangagwa, who is for that matter leader of government business in Parliament, appears to take pride in being known for avoiding serious national issues brought to Parliament for debate by trivialising them or creating unhelpful jokes out of the matters.
Parliament is a place where we expect seriousness — a place where national legislation is crafted. It is a place where issues that are of concern to citizens are brought to the attention of the nation by the people’s representatives — the MPs.
Parliament’s ability to impeach, kick out a president and craft laws that decide presidential terms of office shows just how important that institution is. That is why it is at this august House that presidents make crucial national announcements such as the state of the nation address.
It therefore, becomes worrisome, when experienced legislators like Mnangagwa seek to belittle Parliament’s importance to a point where they take it as a place to display unproductive wit when they should be addressing crucial national concerns.
President Robert Mugabe occupies the highest public office in Zimbabwe and he was entrusted to that office on various conditions that include good health, fitness and capacity to run the country.
So, when concern about the state of his health and capacity to shoulder the obligations demanded of his office are raised, Zimbabweans do not expect to be insulted by arrogant jest from a senior government official who is also leader of the House.
Mnangagwa should know better than demean issues such as were raised last Wednesday about Mugabe’s health and fitness vis-a-vis his age and recent embarrassing and near-tragic episodes that saw the president falling down and reading a wrong speech.
Godfrey Sithole, the MDC-T MP for Chitungwiza North asked Mnangagwa during the National Assebley’s question and answer session to explain to the country if Mugabe was still fit to rule Zimbabwe given his age and the attendant gaffes.
“What is the state of health of the president of the nation?” Sithole asked.
And, in a response that smacks of sickening arrogance and condescension, the VP replied: “I can assure the MP that the president is healthier than him.”
There is absolutely no doubt that Mugabe is very old, in fact too old to be made to be running the many and difficult national errands that his party Zanu PF is letting him execute. At 91, he can only be healthy enough to carry himself about as humans in that age group would — but certainly not as is expected of a president running a country with Zimbabwe’s debilitating economic and political challenges.
Mugabe’s age, along with the state of the country’s economy and the general difficult conditions of life in Zimbabwe, are the most topical issues that ordinary people talk about around the country today and Mnangagwa knows this.
It would therefore have been hoped that the question such as was brought in Parliament by Sithole would have provided an opportunity for the leadership to seriously address this issue and somehow reassure the nation — it doesn’t matter what the people would have taken of the explanation.
Telling people that Mugabe is healthier than Sithole — however true or untrue that may be — does not at all address the issue that is worrying the people of Zimbabwe. After all, Sithole is not the president of Zimbabwe and his state of health is none of our business.
Any explanation other than the arrogance proffered by the VP for an answer could have worked because the livelihood and future of millions of people is dependent on the president’s capacity to run the country.
Mnangagwa’s tact to brush Sithole’s question aside is not helpful because it brings doubt to those minds that believed in Mugabe’s many abilities that defy his age.
There are people who have long held the hopeful belief that Mugabe may be old and under all sorts of pressure, but it would be a mistake to underestimate his shrewdness and take him for granted just because he is an old man fighting debilitating health and political problems. This is the belief that Mnangagwa should have sought to reaffirm — not to run away from the question like there was something to be really afraid of about the subject.
What Zimbabweans are being told every day is that Zanu PF — if it survives the factional implosion to be able to stand as one party in the next election — may still be led by Mugabe who will then be 94 years old. And, given the discordance in opposition politics, Zimbabwe may still have him as president.
No matter how remotely successful an attempt to sell Mugabe as the ideal president at his age, Mnangagwa still has the obligation to assure the nation — not in a dismissive and arrogant one-sentence retort — that Mugabe, even at 91, is still capable and strong enough to lead and provide for a nation whose majority population is less than a third his age.
This is necessary for Mnangagwa to do because if the mood of the common people is anything to go by, we should have had a new government way back.
We have been wearing the same socks for a whole 35 years!