ZIMBABWE – a ripe age of 91, President Robert Mugabe has often astounded many, including his most ardent critics by looking to be in relative good health and retaining a remarkable sharp memory.
In fact, in a country which sends its 65 year-olds into retirement for old age, little is often expected of nonagenarians.
President Mugabe has presided over burial ceremonies of younger lieutenants, speechifying for hours at the funerals. The tough President often boasts that he was as fit as a fiddle when quizzed about his health.
However, a series of recent gaffes and stumbles have shown that claims of his failing strength and faculties are no longer just a convenient item for opposition propaganda; old age is in fact catching up with him.
At a Zanu PF congress in December last year, President Mugabe astonished party delegates when he chanted Pasi neZanu PF (down with Zanu PF), something that would count for treason if said by anyone else.
While the tongue is known for being slippery by its very wet nature, critics felt this was more than just the proverbial slip. However, with intense cover up from his defenders, Mugabe could be given the benefit of doubt.
He returned early this year with a dramatic airport stagger which saw him tumble from a small flight of podium steps and again spin doctors got busy, telling everybody who cared to listen that his fall was caused by a poorly laid carpet.
Since the fall, there has been increased vigilance by aides around the veteran leader for fear of another embarrassing thud.
In fact, his younger wife Grace has often been seen at public gatherings chaperoning him to podiums. In April last year, Mugabe refused a travel to an EU-Africa summit without his wife who had been denied a visa.
While many, for obviously different reasons, focused on his physical health, Mugabe took his gaffes to the official opening of parliament in September where he gracefully went
through a wrong speech with all his faculties seemingly intact.
A normal person could have sensed the speech did not say anything about the occasion he was presiding over, critics feasted on his boob.
Perhaps fearing another speech gaffe or fall, President Mugabe surprised many during the burial of the late former PF Zapu stalwart and national hero Sikhanyiso Ndlovu by delivering an uncharacteristic 17-minute speech.
Recently, he has delegated the more energetic First Lady to visit provinces delivering government sourced farming machinery and other inputs, making observers speculate that he was preparing his wife to take over.
Mugabe’s backward stumble during a state visit to India on Thursday has served to fuel suspicions his tired frame could take no further strain.
The question is, has age finally caught up with a leader who has held his critics spellbound by his tough physic?
Harare publisher and academic Ibbo Mandaza says age was indeed catching up with Mugabe whom he said was fast turning into a national embarrassment.
It is an embarrassment not only to him as head of state but also to Zimbabweans, Mandaza told newZimbabwe.com.
We have become an international spectacle for the wrong reasons and it reflects badly on those who want him to stay on regardless.
The egg is on their faces. They want him to stay on because he has been a symbol of their survival.
When the chief executive of a country is no longer able to manage, it is an indictment on all of us as Zimbabweans.
Opposition PDP spokesperson Jacob Mafume was equally scathing in his remarks.
No cure for old age
What we know is that old age is an ailment that mankind has failed to cure and Mugabe is nonetheless an outpatient in a hospital for old age, Mafume said.
It is cruel on our part as a country to be having a 91 year old continue to be our leader.
Mugabe should be found nowhere else other than at an old people’s home and would even still be considered as a veteran at an old people’s home.
Mafume said Mugabe must now be impeached.
Similarly, Professor Welshman Ncube’s MDC demanded Mugabe’s resignation.
It is now crystal clear that Mugabe is too tired to remain in office until 2018, party spokesperson Kurauone Chihwayi said.
The MDC is calling upon Robert Mugabe to consider stepping down with immediate effect or risk an embarrassing defeat in 2018.
The Senate and the National Assembly should start proceedings to remove him from power in line with section 97(1)(d) of the Zimbabwe constitution which clearly states that the President may be removed from office for inability to perform the functions of the office because of physical or mental incapacity.
Mugabe’s advanced age has now been a subject of speculation with Malawian Austin Liabunya, predicting early this year his “biological clock will not tick beyond this year”.